“Parts of Montana are about to get a winter’s blast the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over a decade.” (That did sound a bit Trumpian in its grandiosity.) “Northwest Montana could get intense snowfall, but everyone can expect drastically colder temperatures for the forseeable future.” NOAA forecast 01.11.20
This didn’t happen over the week end as expected. It did get quite cold, but there was but a skiff of snow. I think we all expected it would be THE weather event, that the tide had changed, and now it would be serious Winter. It is in the mountains, but we were relatively unscathed here in the Valley. When I went for a walk this morning, it was lightly snowing at 18 degrees. The geese overhead sounded cold, and a deer family was bedded down under a big Doug Fir, but every now and then, I could see a patch of blue sky. They say it will be sunny tomorrow, and nothing major is in the forecast for the remainder of this week, nor the week beyond.
It adds to that January feeling of being on pause, in limbo, just waiting–for something. Maybe a big snow storm, a week in Hawaii, the arrival of Spring. I was out on our dock the other day, looking out to the sailboat mooring ball, and thought how LONG it feels until summer time. It wasn’t until the third week of January, last year, when winter truly arrived here, and by March, the lake had frozen over. There is so much of winter yet to unfold…and, we have a trip to Finland late in February. I think one must be mindful about what you are waiting for in mid-January.
And, yet, just a month from now, there will be that unique February light. No matter how cold it is, how deep is the snow, that light lets you know Winter’s grip is invisibly weakening. The turn of the earth towards the sun can now be seen. Then, suddenly it’s March. I have selfies from last March, of me sitting in a parka on our bedroom porch, soaking in sunshine, and the frozen lake in the background. It goes fast, it really does. I think it’s best to just hunker down into January, let it be. We’ve got a trip over to Chico next week, joining the Millers in the hot springs pool with snowflakes, hopefully, overhead. And, with Finland next month, I’ve been looking at travel sites for Lapland, wondering if maybe we should all take the train up there, and go on one of those husky dog sled rides through the forest at the Arctic Circle. In the meantime, there are so many ways to stay cozy and warm in January.
On one of my favorite blogs, brainpickings, by Maria Popova, she shared a poem by the author, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and, as part of its emergency winter appeal for Syrian refugees, he invited his twitter followers to submit their memories of warmth in winter time. Using their words, he created the lovely poem, What you Need to be Warm. He reminds us of how to stay warm, and to know how lucky we are to be warm, in this coldest season.
WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM
by Neil Gaiman
A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.
The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.
Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.
Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.
A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began
as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.