I don’t know about you, but real cold (down into the teens and single digits) and enough snow to play in, seems like a godsend to me. As the sun comes up — or more accurately, peeks through for just a moment to let us know it is still there — the sound of sweetly lapping waves has been replaced by blocks of ice on the fringes of the lake that make little clicking noises when the water plashes them. A dark carpet stretches over the water for more than hundred yards, composed of geese floating in close proximity to one another for warmth. Intermittent honks with throaty little barks in conversations between what must be a thousand of them, sounds almost like the din of restaurant conversations. (Though admittedly, it has been so long since I have enjoyed a restaurant I could be imagining it).
The wimpy winter weeks that brought us to the end of 2020 and launched 2021, were just too tepid for these parts. If we wanted milder winters there are places for that and it isn’t this part of New York, or anywhere north of Birmingham really. So hurrah for the arrival of true winter! I am sure there will be days of temps in the high thirties, but at least for a few weeks in February brisk low twenties will cause our world to shiver just a little.
My friend, Jim Kennedy, headed out to ski in the woods at night last week when it was eighteen degrees. But he has also been known to take a dip in Seneca lake in November. All of us can’t (or don’t want) to do that kind of thing, but even just taking the dog out in the dark when the snow reflects the moonlight is magical. My own dog, Rabia, is like a child in the snow. She prances and wags her tail for no reason other than there is snow. She runs exuberantly in crazy-eight patterns and only stops to pick up a chunk of ice and chew it. She and Jim are basically doing the same thing.
What it is, this embrace of Big Winter, is that it feels like you’ve done something. Whether skiing solo at night through some nature preserve or just taking a walk down your street through the snow, the air crisp and freezing around your face, it is an accomplishment. When Nature licks our face it reminds us of how small and fragile we are before the majesty of an immense and grand force indifferent to us and our needs. We adjust to it rather than the other way around, and that is healthy for us and our relationship to one another and the Earth. Anything that offers an encounter with humility, and at the same time includes beauty, mystery, and joy, is pretty special.
Often what humbles us is painful. I don’t think I am alone here in saying that presumption and hubris are a constant presence lurking in my thoughts. So whatever strips away my pretense of importance and power, usually doesn’t feel good. But Big Winter, like playing among powerful waves in the ocean, offers a more pleasing reminder and encounter with humility.