Midway between equinox and solstice, the dark time of the year begins. And right on cue, the first snowflakes fall from the sky, beautifully drifting down at a meditative pace. The leaves have dropped from most trees, leaving behind decorative bright red berries or helicopter seed pods. In nature lore the sacred Crone mourns the death of her spouse for the next six weeks, until the solar babe is born and the light begins its annual growth. A time of peaceful reflection, rest, and waiting.
Woke up this week to a winter wonderland – snowed all night and all day.
The world made new. Again.
A mouse lives near the entrance to the neighbourhood park. In the fresh snow on the remaining snowbanks she is busy tunnelling; across the bank, popping up and burrowing down again, leaving tiny holes in the snow. The fresh snow so soft and shallow her tunnel falling in behind her, leaving a path of churned up snow. Terminating at the heart of a leafless bush, stems offering protection from avidly curious snouts of canine folk passers-by.
A Blue Jay calls in the morning from the oak tree in a low buzzing rattle, ending in a middle-pitched *click* – a mating call?
Around home, besides the plethora of bootprints, there are dog (canine accompanying bootprint); coyote (canine not accompanying bootprint!); squirrel & hare a-plenty, to my dog’s delight; magpie, chickadee and other small seed-eaters; occasional mouse; and, least commonly, so most interestingly, striped skunk.
I am still surprised when the tracks lead boldly right up a front walk, though of course, near the human-dens are where the goods are, and the scavenger-types’ reason for frequenting the area.
Last week we had a light snowfall, which made a perfect blank canvass for spying on the abundant nightlife (of the furry variety) in the neighbourhood. A night-time skunk prowler came from the central park, trotted right up a neighbour’s front walk, and came out the back into the alley. My new teacher Mark* told me that skunks — in open spaces and slow to a walk to check things out under cover, which is just what this fellow had done.
That same morning a track of a nighttime cat came up our front walk, followed along between our front snowbank and house, into the backyard. The next morning, a lone canine print followed the same path up the walk and along the snowbank, but walking over the top of the bank instead of stealthily behind it – right outside the window where I slept, oblivious to the nighttime highway the front yard had become.
*Elbroch, Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species
The wheel of the year turns, bringing us round to the dark time. It is the season of long, deep nights, with restful darkness drawn about us like a soft quilt: that comfort at the heart of winter.
The ethereal blessing of prairie winter nighttime is the abundance of bright, reflective snow. Every light picked up a million-fold in the water crystals along the surface of their banks and fields. It mysteriously hangs twinkling in the air as if snow fairies had just danced by. It is a beautiful, magical season.
And now, on solstice morning, we’re “half-way through the dark,” as they so aptly put it in a Christmas Dr. Who episode not so long ago. The dark and light ebb and flow, like the ocean tides in celestial slow motion. The darkness now begins receding – and as I sit by my window on this sacred morning, I feel a friendly loneliness for it at the prospect.
This timeless reflection has such a mesmerizing dreamlike quality…
To one who lives in the snow and watches it day by day, it is a book to read. The pages turn as the wind blows; the characters shift and the images formed by their combinations change in meaning, but the language remains the same. It is a shadow language, spoken by things that have gone by and will come again. The same text has been written there for thousands of years, though I was not here, and will not be here in winters to come, to read it. These seemingly random ways, these paths, these beds, these footprints, these hard, round pellets in the snow: they all have meaning. Dark things may be written there, news of other lives, their sorties and excursions, their terrors and deaths.
From the irresistibly titled book: The Stars, The Snow, The Fire
By John Haines. Published by the also irresistibly named Graywolf Press
Don’t these words leap to mind!? ……… “Winter is coming”…
A book I was delighted to discover lying about the house after my partner returned from foraging in the library, hunting down a quote from our old favourite nature fix –The Road Home.
One of my most loved pieces of naturalist literature is Diane Ackerman’s book, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and other ways to Start the Day. Here is an excerpt from the chapter Where it’s Winter – a revelry in colour.
Monet understood the subjective lens through which snow, though rumoured to be white, often appears confetti-colored as it reflects the winter sun. Dig a hole in the snow and a blue shadow appears at the bottom, because on our planet all shadows are blue, sky-tinted, the scheme of winter dawn.
An opalescent sky becomes the stinging blue of mosque tiles or stage scenery. It’s an azure blue, from the ancient word for lapis lazuli, the intense blue mineral flecked with gold that has emblazoned church and palace walls since antiquity. Polished lapis gives soul to a mosaic, including dawn’s chimeras of jumbled outlines, blurred edges, and phantom forms. We bundle up but the trees go naked in winter. I’ve always loved the way sky is captured in their bare limbs. Held by the delicate tracery of twigs, sky resembles light pouring through leaded stained-glass windows. …
Porch lights shine along the street — white, yellow, gold — like distant stars each tinted differently by the gas at its core. As a result shadows streak behind the trees. The magnolia branches are all elbows.
Winter is a blue season, gray-blue at dawn, blue-white in landscapes, and for many people blue in mood. For them it’s not enough that the sun rises each day, if it just trickles copper across the lake instead of trumpeting reds and oranges. The short days don’t fill their reservoirs of light, and anyway most of the animals are scarce and the plants dead. Personally, I love winter, and regard snow as a great big toy that falls from the sky, just as I did as a child. I love how snow becomes a prism in the sun, crinkling with colors, and how ice coating a winter fence creates visual firecrackers. I love that snow is a mineral, falling as billions of temporary stars.
A fluffy grey blanket hangs overhead; the air fills with glittering crystals; and a deep soft carpet sparkles below. The snow swirling around the park lampposts in the dim early morning light conjure childhood tales of Narnia adventure, or cozy Christmas movies.
“And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air….
She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch, over the snow and through the wood towards the light.
In about ten minutes she reached it and found that it was a lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming toward her.”