January 6, 2010

Long Winter Hours

The hours have been feeling long lately. Especially in the evening, between five and midnight. With all the windows closed against the cold and the absence of humming cicadas or the sounds of my family in the rooms below, in winter, is almost oppressively quiet. I've taken to building fires and maintaining them all day, if only to provide some sort of sound to live with. I have trouble focusing in winter. My mind wanders. A new sense of surreality has introduced itself into my little world. I have never been here in January before.

Last week a cold front arrived and hasn't left. 20-40 degrees for days, and sometimes colder at night. The pond and ditches are frozen solid. I woke one morning at sunrise to the gabbling sound of a flock of canadian geese outside. I looked out the window at the water and saw them, twenty or so, flapping there wings, panicked. A low tide during the night had left the haven out front so shallow that it had frozen hard, trapping them by their feet. The sun arrived to free them soon after, but for a moment there I felt responsible, somehow. Like I should take an ice pick and walk out across the water to free them. It is almost laughably depressing, some mornings, to look out at the frozen water and see one sad blue heron, standing statue-still on the ice. Too cold to bicycle; my ears freeze. I yearn for summer, for sunshine at eight in the evening and the buzzing undertone of the woods, the screeching racket of the osprey family next door. I daydream about the hot thunderstorm that caught me unawares while out on my bicycle in August, soaking me like a hot shower. I biked up and down Gumthicket Road laughing uproariously, inexplicably ecstatic to be there in the pounding rain. I suddenly understand why people here talk about spring so reverently.

The tips of the narcissus are just beginning to peak out of the frozen dirt in the yard, and I wish I could hurry them along. Build little fires beside them to warm them, to coax green from the earth. Every year, as a birthday gift, my grandfather plants 100 bulbs for my grandmother. He has done this for some years past, meaning that every spring now hundreds of spring flowers erupt from the soil all over the yard. I have never been here to see it. It sounds like something out of a film. But it is only January, and winter can be long here. I suddenly understand the groundhog fixation. It makes you wonder how people manage to live in places where winter outlasts everything else, where summer is only a bit warmer and the world is only a bit greener. My friend Flavia always said that that's why Iceland produces so many stellar musicians: when you are trapped indoors for the majority of the year you have to find something to throw yourself at. And you're likely depressed as well, which always makes for a better musician. I think I would rather live in a place that isn't frozen solid most of the year, and never learn to play an instrument.

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