Waiting for winter’s end

winter's end3 - 1.jpg0.28.19

“Winter collapsed on us that year.  It knelt, exhausted, and stayed.”  Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves.

“This cold outbreak of well below normal temperatures will continue through at least Wednesday of next week, where overnight lows will be in the single digits to below zero every day in western Montana… There are no signs of an early spring, as longer range models are indicating below normal temperatures persisting through the middle of March.”  NOAA weather forecast 2.27.19

“Friday afternoon and Saturday brings yet another arctic into western Montana and central Idaho. Model agreement is very good and depicts this as the coldest air mass yet this winter to move into the regions. Which is ironic since it will arrive in March which is the beginning of meteorological Spring.”  NOAA weather forecast 2.28.19

The final day of February and the cold is unrelenting.  In the deep dark of night, the house wakes us up with the cracking and groaning sound of winter, as the timbers contract and twist, or whatever they do to make that noise.  The snow falls straight down out my window this morning, making ever deeper piles of snow, which are closing in around the house.  It feels like we could all collapse under its weight.  The poor deer.  Every evening at twilight, they trudge down to the water in blue light, and dig under the deep snow for leaves and branches.   I’ll look out the window to see a bush violently swinging back and forth, as a deer digs deep into the ground, searching for roots.  It makes them look desperately hungry, which surely they are, as snow covers their backs in the bitter cold.  Don said that he’s seen one, several times, with a damaged back leg, most likely broken.  But, he’s eating, and maybe he’ll survive until spring, but would never be able to flee from a predator.  Oh, I hope I don’t see him.   I  wonder if somewhere in their DNA, they actually carry hope for Spring.  Does that keep their life force alive, perhaps the memory of bedding down in grass warmed by the sun, the scent of blossoms in the air, and songbirds in a tree overhead?  Or, is it simply that they know how to wait, as Philip Booth writes in his poem, How to See Deer, “You’ve learned by now to wait without waiting”.

How to See Deer, by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see. 


On Monday, during the coldest Arctic air mass yet this winter, Don drives to Calgary to catch a flight to Norway, for two weeks of ski racing.  I’ll leave soon after, flying off to Arizona to visit a friend, then on to Berkeley for a week with the grandkids.  Just getting out of here is a challenge–is our road passable, are the flights taking off, are the two-lane highways all the way to Canada open?  Raccoon tracks have been spotted up at the garage again, so the bowls of food and water we leave for the kitties, who stay warm inside on their heating pads, are likely to be decimated by the pesky raccoon who squeezes in through the cat door.   We can’t ask any friends to risk their life or limb by driving down our road to refill the bowls–maybe our snow plow man will be game?

By the time we’ve returned home, Daylight Savings Time will have occurred.  It will still be cold and snow will not have melted, but we will have gained another hour of daylight at the end of the day.  I don’t even know that I am happy about that.  Mornings will be darker again, and that extra hour of daylight closes down the best part of February–the winter twilight.  When the sky turns blue, we cross over a quiet threshold, into the night.  I start a fire and light the candles, and settle into a chair with my book and a glass of wine, and watch out my window.   Like sunsets from the dock in mid-summer, there is something magical in witnessing a day come to its end.   We are always delusional about March, thinking there will be green shoots suddenly popping up in the ground, and warm sun on our backs as we sit by the water.  We just want to get moving, get things done, but there comes a revising down of expectations as the  weather has hardly moved off winter’s mark, despite ever-increasing daylight.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the tiny little surprises of hope that reveal themselves in March–in fact, I’ve already heard the male red-winged blackbird.  But, I would be remiss to not bid a fond farewell to these winter nights, so beautifully described by the author of the book that I’m currently reading by my fire:

“…the book had been written with winter nights in mind. Without a doubt, it was a book for when the birds had flown south, the wood was stacked by the fireplace, and the fields were white with snow; that is, for when one had no desire to venture out and one’s friends had no desire to venture in.”
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

1 thought on “Waiting for winter’s end

  1. Mary Barry

    Write when you are away so we can all enjoy the contrast between Rebecca in the snow and Rebecca in the sun. 🙂


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