Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Silent night

Two aspects of living in the rural north give special poignancy to the winter holidays.

(1) Silence.
On the rare occasions when we have big snow -- just snow, no wind or sleet or any other variations of winter storm -- the world is embraced in a white velvet silence. It's a true silence, an utter silence; the only sounds come from your own clothes when you move. The surface of the world is smoothed into innocent beauty while life sleeps beneath. We get the silence for a few minutes or hours a year, maybe once every several years; two years ago, it came as a gift on the winter solstice.

(2) Darkness.
No streetlights. No neighbor's porch lights. Mostly, no headlights except your own, winding along the roads back from town. Then, suddenly, a star of Bethlehem floating in the blackness! Oh, it's somebody's holiday lights on a barn across the valley. Around a curve, a perfect Christmas tree illuminated in red, green, and white. Or perhaps a blue one. Then darkness. Around another bend, a deciduous tree's bare branches outlined in gold. Another mile of darkness, until the world leaps into blinding, blinking glow from an extravaganza of Santas and reindeers and trees and stars and snowmen and sleighs, all packed into somebody's tiny yard and so fully lit that you can almost hear the electric meter spinning. Then, back into darkness -- the opposite of snowfall, a rich, deep, inky blue that showcases every star in the heavens.

With this combination, it's hard to resist singing, "Silent night, holy night / All is calm, all is bright . . ."

Happy holidays!

Carolyn Haley

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mammals R Us

This time of year, I become acutely conscious of being a diurnal mammal. As winter descends, so do my energy and curiosity, so that all I want to do is eat large amounts of fatty foods and sleep. My cats do basically that, and I envy them the luxury. The rest of the year, they want to be outside all the time; now, they only bestir themselves for a brief change of scenery or a trip to the outdoor restroom. I content myself with looking out the windows and using indoor plumbing.

The happiest moment of every day is when I crawl beneath the electric blanket. The unhappiest moment of every day is when I wake up in the morning and it's still dark.

Some lucky critters get to bury themselves in the mud or a den, or migrate, or in other ways escape the season. The unlucky ones are out still there rooting desperately for food and shelter. I often wonder how our forebears endured life without houses and furnaces and electric blankets and supermarket-bought food stored in refrigerators, with electric lights and entertainment to beat back the darkness while wearing warm, comfy clothes and driving environmentally sealed cars. How brutal life must have been in earlier ages! How grateful I am to never know!

Just as often, I think about the advantage of this climate. Sure, winter is a drag, but it brings important pluses. In our neck of the woods, we don't have to worry about region-demolishing catastrophes such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, mudslides, and wildfires. I'll gladly take a few months of winter for all my life to avoid experiencing any one of those, even once! Likewise, having 3-4 months of deep freeze manages insect pests in a way that spares us from plagues in garden and body, as can happen in warmer regions.

So I'll resist that primeval urge to hibernate and hang on through another winter. Spring, like a rainbow after a storm, arrives at the end. Which is worth many months of cold and darkness.