Tag: snow

A mind for winter

As above…

…snow below:

Before the recent heat wave started melting the abundant snow, I was able to enjoy a moment in the snowfall with Mr. Two Year Old, which is where I grabbed the clips above. I’m so glad he loved it as much as I did.

Anytime I’m able to dwell in idyllic winter weather I think of Adam Gopnik’s Winter: Five Windows on the Season, which I read back in 2014. I’m always on the lookout for quotes and books that capture the alluring spirit of winter and why I love it so much, and that book definitely delivered.

But I realized I hadn’t actually taken any notes from it, so I did something I rarely do: I reread a book. Admittedly it was less a full reread and more a skimming for the best quotes, but I’m glad I did because there was lots I failed to note and appreciate the first time.

I included my favorite quotes below, but before that I also want to highlight an excerpt from a poem Gopnik himself quotes—1794’s “The Winter Evening” by English poet William Cowper:

   Oh Winter! ruler of th’ inverted year,
Thy scatter’d hair with sleet like ashes fill’d,
Thy breath congeal’d upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fring’d with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age; thy forehead wrapt in clouds,
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A sliding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urg’d by storms along its slipp’ry way;
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seem’st,
And dreaded as thou art!  …
I crown thee King of intimate delights,
Fire-side enjoyments, home-born happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturb’d retirement, and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening, know.

Quotes

  • A mind of winter, a mind for winter, not sensing the season as a loss of warmth and light, and with them hope of life and divinity, but ready to respond to it as a positive, and even purifying presence of something else—the beautiful and peaceful, yes, but also the mysterious, the strange, the sublime.
  • Winter’s persona changes with our perception of safety from it. … The romance of winter is possible only when we have a warm, secure indoors to retreat to, and winter becomes a season to look at as much as one to live through.
  • In the past two hundred years we have turned winter from something to survive to something to survey, from a thing to be afraid of to a thing to be aware of.
  • The iceberg becomes representative of the ultimate common mystery of the mind—what you don’t see is what counts most—and the snowflake becomes a representation of the radical individualism of each person.
  • The final truth about snowflakes is that they become more individual as they fall; that, buffeted by wind and time, they are translated, as if by magic, into ever stranger and more complex patterns, until at last they touch earth. Then, like us, they melt.
  • We celebrate continuity and want to renew it; we recognize that continuity has its discontents, and want to reverse it. (re: reversal festivals and renewal feasts)
  • The reason we should be engaged with material life is that our abundance can lead us to acts of altruism.
  • That’s the complex inheritance of modern Christmas. Our recuperative winter is one in which renewal and reversal, anxiety and abundance, epiphany and uneasiness are knotted together. 
  • The earth does renew itself; we don’t. And so we want to connect our human cycle of mere growth and decay, where winter holds no spring, to the natural cycle of renewal. We can’t do it, of course, but we can’t stop trying.
  • The symbolism of the modern, ambivalent, anxiety-ridden, double-faced Christmas is winter symbolism. We need the warmth in order to enter the cold, and at Christmas we need the cold in order to reassert the warmth, need the imagery of the bleak midwinter in order to invoke the star above the stable. If the world has globalized Christmas, Christmas has winterized the world. And so the empire of the winter holiday extends from one end of this continent to another.
  • It is necessary to assert snow in order to evoke sunshine, to make a theatre of winter in order to promise spring, to chill the Baby in order to let him do his thing, to submit to helplessness and winter in order to evoke power and new light.
  • If we didn’t remember winter in spring, it wouldn’t be as lovely; if we didn’t think of spring in winter, or search winter to find some new emotion of its own to make up for the absent ones, half of the keyboard of life would be missing. We would be playing life with no flats or sharps, on a piano with no black keys.
  • Winter stress makes summer sweetness—and the stress of warm times makes us long for the strange sweetness of cold ones.
  • Stress makes sweetness, and snow and ice are the frosting of loss.
  • That feeling that only the thinnest of membranes, the simple pane of glass separating the onlooker—the poet or the painter or the ordinary child—from the threat beyond is one that has receded from our immediate experience.
  • But instead we give the coldness names, we write it poetry, we play it music, we experience it as a personality—and this is and remains the act of humanism. Armed with that hope, we see not waste and cold but light and mystery and wonder and something called January. We see not stilled atoms in a senseless world. We see winter.
  • Winter is the white page on which we write our hearts.

Recent Views

More photography here and on my Instagram.

A dusting on the pier at our local park:

Just following in Little Man’s footsteps:

This is either a failed photo or the perfect encapsulation of Christmas morning with a toddler:

Liked the colors and light in our front bushes (which still have Christmas lights on them) while taking out the trash early in the morning after a big snow:

From the same early morning, the edge of the driveway’s snow blower path was very satisfying to behold:

One day while working from home I saw Almost 2 Years Old and my wife rolling around the snow in the backyard:

Recent Views

More photography here and on my Instagram.

Watching this little wanderer discover the wilds of Pure Michigan™:

Caught some nice evening light in our local playground’s jungle gym:

Technically this will be Mr. 22 Month Old’s third winter (he was born during a blizzard), but the first he remembers and appreciates. Hence his major surprise and excitement when waking up to the first snow of the season:

And finally getting to use his shovel:

Recent Views

More photography here and on my Instagram.

From our go-to park last fall:

Little man enjoying the ball pit at his cousin’s birthday party:

The inside view of Madison’s capitol dome:

Turns out kids love swings:

A few shots from probably the last snowfall of an extremely mild winter:

Recent Views

More photography here. And on my Instagram.

Pretty cool frost patterns on my car window (I call this one “Frozen Fractals All Around”):

A few shots of my building’s backyard in the snow:

Scraping off the car one morning, the snow shavings fell in a pattern that encircled the car. They contrasted well with the dark asphalt, and sorta looked like the Milky Way:

And a bonus GIF from when I was looking through microfilm at work for a patron. The zooming effect made it look like those whirling newspaper montages in old movies:

Snow Bank Stories

Alexis-Anderson-puddle

On my block the snow banks reign. They billow with the winter, building girth with every snowfall and polar vortex. This winter has been especially harsh. The banks are bloated with layers of snow that together tell the story of the season. The inch in late November sits at the bottom, hugging the frozen tundra and buttressing the snowfalls that followed: the blizzard before Christmas, the extra inches that welcomed the new year, and every nighttime shower that lubricated the roads and made hell of your commute. I can see all of these snowfalls now in the mounds that flank my neighborhood, bound together like a white pages in an epic novel. Season’s Greetings: The Snows of Winter 2014—coming to a bookstore or e-device near you. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that these paper stories tell time like the rings of a tree, like that from which the stuff of paper comes.

There’s a particular snow story I noticed recently on my block, on an unseasonably warm day. With the sidewalks leading to the street barraged with shoveled snow and many driveway ends flooded with snowmelt, someone had forged a new pathway to the street through a sturdy snow bank. This makeshift staircase, formed by the boot prints of many waylaid walkers, had been fossilized by nightly icings. So long as the cold held, this corridor would too.

But how strange it felt to walk on water! For if it were July and I took this same detour, my feet would not leave the ground. But it is February, and as I climbed this temporary trail to the street, I thought nothing of the miracle it was to walk upon a path made of solidified water.

This will not last. Snow burns just as paper does, and as the temperature rises and the sun burns stronger the stories the snow banks tell will slowly melt away. They will disintegrate and be subsumed back into the muddy earth, where they will atomize and reform as new stories for the spring to tell with a smile. Those wearied by the long winter usually cannot wait to bid it an unceremonious farewell, as if they blame winter for getting in the way of the more marketable spring. But the beautiful stories the spring tells were not earned; they were given. The flowers and the green grass and the robins and the balm of the temperate air owe their existence to the grace of winter, to the unheralded work it performs to prepare the earth for resurrection. It is hard work, but it gets done every year.

It’s winter yet in early March, but I can feel the coming of spring. In this dreary in-between when the cold and snow seem to linger like uninvited guests at party’s end, I don’t despair. Rather, I spend my late- winter days finishing the weighty tome of winter and anticipating how the story of this year will continue in the sequel of spring come April.

To be continued.

Photo by Alexis Anderson.

Winter’s Harsh Beauty

“Wisdom comes with winters.” –Oscar Wilde

I’ve always taken for granted my ability to walk on ice.

Growing up in the Wisconsin winters, I had many opportunities to work and play on the ice, whether it be to shovel the sidewalk or play a pickup game of broomball. You learn pretty quickly how to adjust your walking motion when traversing a patch of ice; you can’t just amble through as usual, unless you want to repeatedly assail your tailbone.

Winter teaches hard lessons like this one. If you don’t learn how to walk, you’ll earn a quick trip to the icy pavement. If you don’t learn how to maneuver your car, a snowbank will find its way to your bumper on the quick. Winters in the north can be harsh, and they ought to be. Many people disagree with this, but they miss something good when they pine only for tropical temperatures. As Charles Simic writes, “The cold concentrates the mind. The moment we step outdoors, we do what we have to do with uncommon intelligence and dispatch, unlike those folks who can afford to sit in the shade on some Mediterranean or Caribbean island. … History, E.M. Cioran said, is the product of people who stand up and get busy. Can one be a dreamer or a dolt on the North Pole?”

When I take a walk or bike ride in the winter cold, my mind is razor-sharp. With the wind biting at my face and slowly numbing my less-layered limbs, the silly inconveniences of life I could care about only on a balmy 72-degree day evaporate with each cold breath. I expel so much energy bracing my body against the chill that re-entering a heated building feels purifying, like the cold is melting off me. I crave that feeling all year round.

The giddiness I display on a cold day or at the first sign of snow bewilders many. “How can you like the cold? You’re crazy.” I am. I’m a winter addict. I find my high in a walk through a snowy wood. In a soundtracked, nighttime snowfall. In the smell of the crisp winter air accented by a nearby bonfire. In a hot cup of tea thawing my frozen hands.

There is real beauty in the things we must struggle through. I love winter, to paraphrase a former president, not because it is easy but because it is hard. Some wish they could leap over winter into spring, escaping the blustery winds and slippery sidewalks for a more tepid time. But I say we need it. The deeper the winter, the more beautiful the spring. With their 75-and-sunny weather every day, Los Angelenos don’t know what they’re missing.

I’ll be able to appreciate all the more that first blooming flower in April not because it signifies winter’s end, but because I struggled through a season without flowers.

I fought you for so long…

Imagine: Darkness, accompanied by golden light from surrounding “Narnia” lamp posts. The snow slowly permeates everything in sight, including your face. The path you’re on shines like diamonds and swivels oh so gracefully alongside a sparkling river. Soft piano music dances into your ear, choreographed perfectly with the falling flakes. Now, tell me that God is not with you at that very moment.

Snow is commonly thought of as a metaphor for a sense of renewal or rebirth, but I see it as being able to see our worth. God drops this stuff down on us to show us that we can sparkle like diamonds and are so clean and new if we choose to be. Go outside the next time it is snowing at night and see what happens.

P.S. If you want to experience a living and breathing God, listen to Relient K’s album mmHmm. He is all over those lyrics.