Waiting for Winter
December 7, 2011 § 3 Comments
Given the disturbingly mild weather of late, I felt compelled to revisit this piece, originally written for Vermont Commons.
The season’s first big snow finds me on the shed roof by 7:00, trying to nail down the last few sheets of tin before the storm begins in earnest. Already, the air is thick with driven flakes. When I look up, I see the cows, bent to their feed, broad backs coated with white. I see the boys, sleds in hand, trudging through the accumulating snow. They are yelling. Maybe they are arguing, maybe they are just yelling to notice how the snow hushes their voices. I yell, too, but they don’t hear or, if they do, don’t acknowledge hearing. They are getting older, learning that I can be ignored.
It is 16-degrees. The bare fingers of my nail-holding hand burn with the cold, and I have to stop every three or four nails to tuck the fingers into my armpit. Beneath my feet, the tin is extraordinarily slippery, and twice I almost slide over the roof’s edge. It is not a long drop, so I allow myself to enjoy the sensation of sliding, knowing that even if the worst should come to pass, it won’t be that bad. But it doesn’t.
I have always loved winter. For years, it was for the skiing, the cut-loose feeling of falling down a mountain, of being at once in control and out of it. I still covet this sensation, but have noticed a shift in my appreciation of the season. Maybe it is age. Maybe it is fatherhood. Or maybe it just is. Whatever the reason, I find it in the sight of those cows, uncomplaining as the snow piles atop their hides. They stand so still, as if giving the storm permission to fall upon them. There is something honorable in it.
And I find it in the way a block of hard maple sounds when it submits to the maul. Goodness, but I love that sound, love the lubricated feeling of my muscles working in the cold, love gathering up the wood and carrying it indoors and watching the flames take it.
Even the absurdity of laying roof on a 16-degree morning, in a snowstorm, no sure footing to be found. I should be cold – hell, I am cold – should be miserable, should probably wait for the storm to pass. It’s not my work ethic that keeps me up here, nor some misguided notion of what defines valor. Believe me, I have no surfeit of these particular traits, although it is true that a small part of myself will measure its worth against the portion of the job that remains unfinished at day’s end. It is true that I can feel myself taking strength from the sight of those cows, from the sound of his boys whooping in the cold.
But it is truer that the settled, elemental nature of winter soothes and fortifies me in a way I can’t quite define. I do not see it as a battle with the elements; it is more like an acquiescing to them, a simple, humble acknowledgement that there is so much beyond my control. The cows know it; perhaps I have learned some of it from them. I’m pretty sure the boys know it, too, though it probably won’t be long before they forget. They are only human, after all. That is their only failing.
I come down. The task is unfinished but I am, at last, too cold to carry on. My fingers no longer burn, but I know it would be better if they did. I stick them under my armpit, look up through the hole in the roof, feel the snow on my face. In a moment, I’ll go inside, hang my coat, put my gloves by the fire to dry. In a moment, I’ll be warm. But for now, I stand there, doing nothing.