Another day, along a path I regularly follow, perhaps a mile from the road, I observed a garden tool lying parallel to the trail. It looked like it had been there forever, but I had never noticed before. The handle was well worn, and the hoe blade was rusted with lichens growing on it. Where had it come from?
As far as I could see, in every direction, tall hardwoods, heavy undergrowth, and bushy pines filled the view. No garden in need of tending could be found for miles. That hoe looked for all the world like it had been carefully placed next to a log by someone who disappeared unnoticed into the periphery, not wishing to be seen. Again I thought of Mr. Tumnus. Had he slipped into the shadows behind that huge maple when I came humming around the bend? Was he in the habit of watching for me on my afternoon amble, and where was he now?
My closest almost Narnia encounter began late one afternoon when I had returned from a hike and realized I'd lost my warm headband. Somewhere I'd been fumbling gloves on/gloves off, glasses on/ glasses off, camera lens cap on/off,…and dropped my headband in the process. (I still don't feel like I can take the best pictures while I'm wearing my glasses…the viewfinder suits my naked eye better…and on a cold day when I'm well bundled, juggling my "gear" can get very complicated mid-trail.) So the headband was gone. I felt sorry about the loss, for it was a favorite, just the right amount of warmth without feeling smothered. (But still, I couldn't hear the owls well through it, so that was probably why I had it off to begin with…) I didn't give it further thought.
Weeks later, when I revisited that area, what did I see hanging from a pine branch overhanging the path? You guessed it. The headband. Now you tell me, isn't that just the sort of thing Mr. Tumnus might do?
What's to love about winter? Narnian thoughts. Narnian encounters. Almost.
The woods in winter is a tired old woman,
Bleary eyed and ready for sleep.
No glasses, no make-up,
her teeth on the night stand.
She is angles and bones, a maze of wrinkles.
She bears not a spot of blush,
nor eye shadow, nor lipstick.
Her thinning hair sports no ribbon.
She wears no flowery gown,
no ruffle at her throat.
Still, there is stark loveliness,
Bleak beauty in the simple lines.
It is what it is,
the unadorned truth.
And then I spy her ruby embellishments,
I gasp in wonder at exquisite splendor,
And I imagine she winks at me.
What's to love about winter? Stark beauty.
A few weeks ago I drove south along the Junaita River.
Winter was in full progress, but there was no snow (yet.)
Outside my window, the landscape stretched in unending shades of gray with barely a trace of color.
The word bleak came to mind. Or dull.
Or a handful of other unfavorable adjectives regularly tagged onto winter scenes.
Drab. Dreary. Depressing. Desolate. (What's with the letter "d"?)
And then I started noticing the sycamores, Platanus occidentalis.
During the leaf-filled days of spring and summer, the American sycamore, also known as the American planetree, occidental plane, and buttonwood, is rather unremarkable. When autumn paints our central PA scenes, the sycamore is one of the first to drop its ordinary yellow brown leaves as if can't wait for barren winter days. Perhaps the sycamore tree knows that its time is coming. For winter is the time when the sycamore can shine.
The sycamore is best known for its unusual mottled bark which sloughs off in irregular patches to reveal shades of gray, greenish white, and brown. All year long, sycamore bark flakes off in uneven sheets, but it is chiefly in the winter that this unique beauty is noticeable.
There are people like this in my world, yours too I suppose,
people who aren't particularly memorable or noticeable
when life is green and growing.
When there's an ostentatious show of flashy performance
like autumn leaf wonder,
But when life turns bleak and cold,
when the colorful exhibition is gone,
and day simply follows day,
there they stand.
With understated beauty,
their presence adds depth and dignity to ordinary days.
They are quietly "there" making a difference simple by being there.
Look for them,
these quiet sentinels of beauty,
on your bleak/dull/drab/depressing days.
Watch for the sycamores.
I had another idea in mind for today's post, but then we woke up to a fresh coating of snow. I knew I needed to get out of the house for a walk, but one thing led to another; the day was slipping by fast, and I was still inside. I kept talking to myself, kept myself moving, on track to get out the door before it was too late. I jumped in the van to drive to the woods because I knew there wasn't time to walk TO the woods and IN the woods. In two minutes I had parked along the road less traveled, and I was breathing deep of cold crisp mountain air, and thinking, oh, if you've never walked in the winter woods at dusk, you just haven't lived.
The blue gray beauty is mysterious and beckoning. The hush seeps into my soul as I walk the snow covered mountain road. I'm alone at the moment, but there have been other travelers here, deer tracks etch a path parallel to mine, squirrels have been leaping everywhere, and rabbits have been zigzagging here half the day, according to my reading of the road.
I hesitate as the trail forks up the mountain. The sun is long gone; the blueness of the woods has deepened to dusky gray, but I can't resist the urge to walk just a bit further. I'm waiting for something, hoping, longing, yearning for that certain wonder of the winter woods.
I walk and pause, walk and pause. Even if my wish is fulfilled I cannot take a picture for you, for I am waiting for a sound, an echo of beauty heard only in deep winter.
I might be holding my breath when I hear it; the sound floats down the mountain on my left, carried on a breeze whisper, echoing between the bare trees and my heart, the evocative call of the great horned owl. The sound is so haunting I wonder if it's real, and then the answer drifts through the shadows. I wait. One calls…pause… the other answers. At first the pauses are about ten steps long, and I walk quickly, "quietly," toward the voices, scanning the deeply shadowed woods, hoping for a glimpse. Today's snow is powder soft, and my steps are somewhat muffled, although I still think I sound like a very large two-footed something or other fumbling through unknown terrain. I doubt I'll be able to sneak up on anything. The calls continue, back and forth back and forth; the pause between notes shortens until the voices sometimes overlap in a duet. (Since I couldn't take a picture, I found this link for you: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/sounds/Owl_GreatHorned_Duet.mp3)
I keep walking toward them, and then the ghost of a winged shadow glides between the branches, up the mountain. When I hear the call again, the low voice is far away, and I know it is time for me to turn toward home.
I'm not afraid on the mountain at night; I haven't watched enough bad movies to make me shiver walking among trees in near darkness. The only dangers I might stumble upon would be self imposed…
getting lost ("Just walk downhill;" this one bit of advice has forever relieved my fear of losing my way on our mountains)
or spraining an ankle (which my mom did when she was about my age…but she seemed much older. To me. Then.)
or falling (which I do before I reach the van, smooth ice beneath fresh snowfall, and splat, I'm dusting snow off of my camera lens and other places)
Behind me, the owls are still calling; overhead the moon shines, ringed with light, promising…more snow.
The night woods are still and peaceful and lovely.
I breath the cold air deep and hold my breath in the hush of the white snow everywhere.
The shining moon floats in a bowl of deep blue sky, surrounded by tree branch silhouettes, and I feel, feel the beauty of it.
What's to love about winter? Winter woods walking.
I didn't take this picture, but I was there, or maybe I should say, it was here. Here, in my backyard. (Thank you Belleville Fire Co. facebook page for capturing this shot!)
The moment no one ever plans for blew in with the wild wind in the early morning hours of January 7 on Hickory Lane. Overlooked sparks were fanned to licking flames which took over the woodhouse, the woodpile, the old shop…And then these men arrived with the memory of morning coffee in their minds, their lungs breathing air that was cold, cold, cold…(minus 4 degrees, our thermometer said, and it took forever for the mercury to inch up to zero.And the wind took the RealFeel to -28 degrees.)
But the firefighters came anyway, from at least four rural stations, because a family of strangers needed them. We did know some of the men who came, but in all that gear it was hard to tell who was who. And it didn't really matter, because they all served just the same way, whether they knew us or not. They hustled and sprayed and dragged hose and hauled tin and sprayed and hustled some more.
I suppose everyone is thankful for volunteer firefighters in an abstract, vague sort of way. But when you watch them sprint across your yard and attack the fire that is attacking your property, gratefulness becomes definite and takes a form.
Thank you, firefighters for doing what you do with integrity, perseverance, and dedication. Every single day, every single time the alarm calls you. Every season of the year, any time of the day or night. (And thank you families of firefighters who say goodbye time after time after time.)
When every thing was done that could be done,
the woodhouse was gone,
the wood pile was charred and scattered,
the old shop was a heap of rubble dotted with the skeletons of "stuff."
But in the background, through the smoke,
our house stood, waiting, warm, welcoming,
unscathed by the reaching flames.
We were grateful for a strong wind in the right direction, and
firefighters who had won the fight.
What's to love about winter? firefighters.
I like tea.
Black tea, green tea,
Hi, how- have- you- been, tea,
I like tea.
Berry zinger, peppermint,
How to serve it, here's a hint.
In a mug or in a cup, steep it and I'll drink it up.
I like tea.
A tea that tastes fruity, like country peach passion
A flowery tea is the popular fashion.
Celestial Seasonings, extravagant choices,
How noisy the cupboard if tea bags had voices!
I like tea.
A tea that reminds me of friends faraway,
Like rooibus, or lotus or proper Earl Gray.
A tea that is sweetened with sugar or honey,
(I like the pink packets, some folks think that's funny.)
I like tea.
A tea from the garden, like apple mint mild,
Or the Boston Mint tea bags I drank as a child.
I'll drink almond sunset, and sleepytime too.
Stop in for a chat, and I'll share some with you!
I like tea.
'Tis winter, 'tis chilly but no need for whining,
We'll stave off the shivers with cups of hot Twining(s)
I like tea.
And that truth also applies to me, to my life, to all of us claiming to carry the Light in our world.
We must live fearless, not concerned for the gloom, the menacing shadows, the gathering darkness.
The darkness does not respond to our words, our worries, our proclamations, our judgments.
The darkness is impacted only by the light of our lives.
We carry our candles calmly,
with confidence and hope and even joy,
knowing that candles do their best work in dark places,
in deep shadows,
where the light is not. yet.
Go light your world.
(And for goodness sake, don't gripe about winter with a candle in your hand.)
What's to love about winter? Candles.
I've had a stash of gifts wrapped and ready since before Christmas to deliver to our Amish neighbor children, but somehow it didn't happen until today. I was waiting for the right time. I didn't want to deliver when the oldest was in school (they only had off one day after Christmas) nor when the youngest was napping, or they were in the barn...or we were away. Or someone was coming over. Or they weren't home. But today was Saturday, and with temperatures in the single digits, I knew it was probably too cold for the little ones to play outside. Maybe my Christmas gift of puzzles wasn't late after all. Maybe it was right on time for this bitterly cold weekend, and four children 6 and under.
Most days, I catch a glimpse of blue dresses or black pants playing in the field lane or dashing through the barn. Little Joe is probably my favorite of the four...some days I just can't resist snapping a few photos from an upstairs window. Here's a series from a milder snowy day earlier this winter. I call it...
The patience of Little Joe.
Now, if I lived in a place without winter, I'd live in a place without these glimpses of Little Joe, and so would you. And I think that would be a great loss for all of us.
Oh, and guess what my neighbor sent home with me today? She had just made them yesterday. (I'm pretty sure she doesn't make doughnuts in July!) Apparently, today was just the right (winter!!) day to visit my neighbors!
What's to love about winter? Neighbors. Amish neighbors.
Winter wouldn't be the same without my fine feathered friends. I grew up watching birds from the kitchen window in my parents house, and as soon as I was old enough, I trudged out in all kinds of weather, wearing my black high top snow boots, and imagined I was a park ranger taking care of the creatures during storms. Our feeders were never neglected.
The years passed, and suddenly there were boys standing on chairs at that kitchen window, learning from Grandma and Grandpa the difference between a chipping sparrow and a song sparrow. I wonder if someone still fills the feeder beside the old maple stump.
More years have passed, and now I'm feeding birds on Hickory Lane, and it is one of my life's sweet, simple pleasures. Suet pleases the various woodpeckers - hairy, downy, and red bellied while black oil sunflower seeds are a favorite of the cardinals and finches. Just now the finches are ignoring the finch feeder, and I'm okay with that since the thistle seed is much more expensive than the other feed. On the ground we feed song sparrows, the occasional junco, and of course lots of finches, sparrows and doves. I take joy in standing at the kitchen window, watching our song sparrow, "Stripey," scratch and skitter near the feeder. We have our regulars every day, nothing spectacular, but oh so enjoyable.
This newcomer and her mate have been an bittersweet addition this year. For many years, my parents had a Carolina wren visiting at their feeder near the laundry room window. Occasionally it would nest in one of the many nest box options on their property, and they would often report on the antics of "their wren."
It's odd to me that this year for the very first time in over ten years on the property I have a faithful pair of these pert songsters at the feeder every single day. They like the sunflower seeds, but they love the suet. I'd love to call my mom and tell her that finally I have a wren of my own...
I can't end without a reference to the bird that moved in with us a few weeks ago. If she had been injured during the balmy days of summer, we wouldn't have noticed her loitering around the bird feeder alone, day after day, because we generally limit our bird feeding to the colder months. And it certainly was easy to find her, following her featherstitched tracks all over the driveway, ending behind our manger scene. Joys of winter... our own bird!
She isn't exactly tame after three weeks inside, but she does come and go from her little cage several times each day. Click, click, click, we hear the rhythm of her footsteps across the wood floors, across the vinyl, and then clink, she hops in for a drink or some feed. Tap tap tap her pointed bill picks up bits of chicken mash and she seems peaceful and content.
At least she is alive, which probably wouldn't have been the case had we just let her fend for herself with her injury, especially in light of the visitor mentioned above. Youngest lobbied hard for the chance to try to save her, trumping all other pleadings with these words, "Dad, you should take care of God's little creatures..." And he was right. This is one of God's little creatures, and caring for her brings us joy.
What's to love about winter? Small friends in small places...and every one of them, God's little creatures.
I'm finding my way beyond the maze of the "middle" years