“It’s really cold”, I said to my Boxer Roxy as we went down the front steps into the gloomy looking day. I had layered on a cotton turtleneck under a woolen sweater covered by a quilted coat, then topped it all off with hat and gloves and scarf.
Though getting older, Roxy actually likes cold weather as long as no snow or sleet or rain – hmmm, not sure about dark of night – anyway, you get the idea. We plodded along at the pace set by a dog intent on sniffing every possible aroma rising from the earth along the way. It’s actually a pace agreeable to me. I can think thoughts that I haven’t had time for during the busy day. I can notice the ducks on the pond, and frown over the fact that the pond has actually begun to freeze on the surface. I can let my mind touch briefly on my resolutions for the coming year, knowing that the real work on that will take place at New Year’s.
What can I say? I like to plan and to have goals. I like the big open slate that is presented by looking at a new calendar and trying to spend my time well in the coming year. I like the sheer magic of thinking about what I MIGHT accomplish. So on we paced – I lost in my winter world of thoughts and frozen surroundings, Roxy visualizing the large wolf that stopped beside that tree recently. She sniffed again … maybe it was a bear, I thought.
Other thoughts crept in as I realized the cold and lack of sun. What might it be like if this was the everyday way of things? I mean, every day the same, cold and dreary, the grass that is waiting patiently below the frost never having the opportunity to turn green and the seed pod on that tree never bursting forth into flower.
During the fall I had noted how low the water in the pond was. The two ducks who make their home there had seemed a bit squeezed for space and food. As the fall lengthened and no rain came, I wondered how long they would stay there, floating above the muddy bottom. During the same weeks the California blaze roared on for days in the news, and I wondered, “What if these droughts and storms and fires reached our side of the country? What if it were our homes sinking beneath the flood, or crumbling in the flames?” With cold weather had come enough rain to raise the water level in the pond, though I could see it was still below normal.
“Oh well,” I thought, “I’m sure it will be OK.” Roxy and I rambled on, nearing the house where I knew another dog lived. I eyed the yard suspiciously in case the dog was lying in wait to run out and greet us with loud barks. Thankfully, most people had their animals inside due to the cold
Freezing moments later, I could see that the big hill leading home was right in front of us. This is where I generally wanted to take the hill like a soldier faced with a target. I wanted to speed up and move along because I could imagine the warm heated house and because the cold was finally seeping through my layers of gear, but not Roxy. She slowed down to an even more plodding pace, got distracted by something hidden in the leaves, and came to a full stop while she dug around and stuck her nose dangerously near I knew not what.
So I stood there, a patient, cold friend, while my mind drifted into thoughts of what would happen if this grey winter was not followed by spring? If the earth did not follow the calendar we expected of it, but spun off into a new bleaker calendar? I couldn’t seem to escape these visions. I thought of medieval times called the Dark Ages when education and science were lost to common people. I imagined this country in my mind as it was when the first settlers arrived – forest and rivers and prairie. Now, we have a rare little pond in the middle of a neighborhood. How long will it be here? What will our descendants have?
As we finally made our way up the hill now a bit glum, I hummed:
“In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan,
"Earth stood hard as iron water like a stone”
Later, in the warmth of the kitchen, I stood looking out the window into the gloom of high noon as icy wind blew the braches of the trees, and the candle’s reflection in the glass flickered and danced. I realized how easy it is to imagine a future world in the midst of cold winter – a world created by the careless way we treat the gift of this earth. I turned away and laughed, bent to blow out the candle and paused humming:
“If I were a wise man, I would do my part”
And I turned back to see the light still flickering against the darkness.
Tere Wagner is a retiree who has found as she grows older that she appreciates nature and its gifts more and more. Thanks to Christina Rosetti for the old Christmas song “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.”