I've been reading through a collection of Henry David Thoreau's short works, a volume that includes A Winter's Walk, Reform and the Reformers, Walden, Walking, Ktaadn, and Life without Principle, among a number of others. I just wrapped up Ktaadn, and - this being my first experience of it - have been captivated by his description of these northern woods that C and I live amongst.
Though clearly part of Thoreau's shtick, I am perpetually drawn in by his manner of highlighting nature’s duality, her quiet resplendence and utter hostility: that she will both warmly invite us into her bosom and yet, on some other occasion and for no apparent reason, will attempt to quite literally eat us alive. Could it be that we twist our ankle on a tree root because we unconsciously crushed a trillium or that we glimpse a wild porcupine because we recently planted a Douglas fir? That would be pure and utter superstition. Right? I acknowledge that this tactic of personifying the earth’s sweet and ugly side should get old, or familiar, or at least lose some of its power, but alas, I'm a sucker for it. It's my siren's song, and I can't stay away.
My sister, R, on the pond
The Great Thaw has begun in the forest. I am not saying that warm temperatures and melting snow will be a normative feature of our approaching weeks, only that the psychotic swing of temperatures has begun to dip into a reasonable, life-giving range, and that I believe (likely a foolish decision) we will begin to see a slow stepping-down of the stern winter rule, and that Lady Spring will draw up her gown and begin her slow, mesmerizing walk into the spotlight. Meanwhile I’ll be doing the used-car lot-inflatable-man dance every time I walk to the dumpster. And falling on my can. Frequently.
It all makes you wonder, are we intended to live in such places? At this point, the question is moot, of course, but still… do you ever think it? And not only here, but even further north? Because – NEWSFLASH – people are living up there. And they are not just surviving, but building cities. They are dragging toboggans on the sidewalks and cooking crepes. It’s magical, so much so that I suspect it is very well another dimension altogether, and not just Canada. That would be boring.
A few weeks ago, my sister, R, drove her little 5-speed northward, past the river, through the woods, and yes, even up our icy 3-mile driveway to stay (and play) with us for a week. She got to experience so many things that we habitually take for granted: pure stillness, first tracks through the snow, snowmobiling on the pond, broken plumbing, washing ladles with the Hobart (which is also known as being washed by the Hobart), and again, stillness, because anything that good deserves a second mention. A highlight of her visit was an overnight trip we took to Canada.
Folks, our northern friends know how to live. They don’t plow the snow off of walkways. Instead, they offer to rent you a sled, because being dragged across the snow is far more fun than a simple walk in the cold. They have civic events that revolve around ice and shivering. They preserve spaces in which to explore the winter world, and they facilitate its good use. They somehow manage to house bees on their rooftops in February and in an act of heavenly goodness, use menthol in their steam rooms, a thing you should consider for your own, assuming it is not an imaginary steam room, like mine is (it's very large, if you were wondering). They also make entire bodysuits out of fishnet, which seems rather hazardous considering the nasty weather, but that slides because everything else seems so cool.
And so the drive of man is relentless. He finds a manner in which to survive the biting cold and rash, unforgiving weather. In the most unlikely of circumstances, he discovers how to mess about in the snow, enjoying the winter conditions in the same way that a small child goes bananas at the threshold of a playground.
So as the sap races from the sugar maples and memories of subzero temperatures fade into the recesses of my mind, I look forward to the gentle whispers of spring. She has not arrived, but is arriving all the same. And I shall wave my arms like a used-car lot-inflatable man to beckon her forth. And she will come.
And soon after, I imagine, she will spin on her heels and leave. But that is how such things go, I suppose.