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The Hush of Snow


In the bleak midwinter,

Frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron

Water like a stone, snow had fallen, snow on snow

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

—Christina Rossetti

The squirrels are scared of the wind. I sit here at the desk watching them skitter in fear each time another gust bends the big pine trees in my neighbor’s yard.

If I’d ever given it any thought before I would have said that squirrels are fearless. They are addicted to playing. They scamper and chitter and chase and jump. I have oak trees in my backyard and this past fall acorns rained down like locusts in a plague. Just walking from my car to my back door was risking concussion.

But my squirrels loved it. A dozen or so rodents at a time, they’d race around the yard gathering their acorns with more glee than some people eat chocolate.

They got fatter as the season went on. They got fatter and they got bolder. Back in September and October, if I opened the back door to go out or opened the gate to come in, 10 or 12 squirrels would scurry off in different directions, leaping onto the storm fence, racing up the tree bark.

By November they were so nonchalant about my presence that they didn’t bother moving until I was a few feet away.

You’re getting bold and fat, guys, I’d tell them approvingly.

I’d watch them from the window by my desk. One time, one was sitting right in the middle of a clay pot, clutching an acorn and nibbling and nibbling, as if transfixed by the marvel of the nut. I, too, was transfixed.

My squirrels know they can ransack my garden, bore holes in the pumpkins we were too busy to carve. Once they even ate through my cable lines. Plastic, too, is apparently tasty to a squirrel.

But now, the gale howls and the early dusk is gathering and the squirrels are gone. Except for the wind-bullied tree branches and the tempests of leaves, the yard is still.

The wind is sounding the alarm for winter.

Where had I heard the wind before

Change like this to a deeper roar?

—Robert Frost

I have been chased out of the yard, too, and sentenced for a season to remember and renew my winter consolations:

Robert Frost, of course. Not because he is so dark and grumpy, but because he can infuse a poem with beauty, grace and irony all at once. That’s a companion for a long winter’s night.

CDs of medieval chanting. It’s like soul-massage. You don’t have to pay any attention to the words. Chances are you wouldn’t understand them, anyway, unless you were a Latin whiz or a savant at medieval French. My current favorites are Etoile du Nord, songs of legendary miracles, Stile Antico’s Music for Compline—‘compline’ being the monastic service of prayer at the close of the day. And winter’s days close very early.

Movies. But not just any movies. Movies about escaping. Whether it’s The Bourne Ultimatum, Grand Illusion or The Wizard of Oz, the idea is to watch movies about people slipping the surly bonds of circumstance. Jason Bourne will learn his real name. The French prisoners will make it safely to Switzerland. Dorothy Gale will get back to Kansas (although what the hell was wrong with Oz? Was she too good for all those colorful weirdoes?). But in any case, these movies assure me that eventually I will emerge from winter. There is hope for the future

Cooking. Winter is the season for making the things that make you sick to think about in really hot weather. Hearty soups, chicken pot pie, hand-rolled pasta, boeuf bourguignon. Everything au gratin. I’ll just put in my CDs from the Teaching Company and nerd out. By spring I’ll know the complete history of Western civilization and all the battle strategies of World War I. I will be a geek-magnet at parties.

Lubrication. The ready availability of all manner of lubrication is the key to winter sanity. Lip balm. Bath oil. Moisturizer. Books. Hot buttered rum. Something for body, mind and spirit.

Last of all, boots. I mean snow boots.

True, I deplore the arrival of winter. I miss my yard and my unruly squirrels. But even winter has its strange enchantments. Sometimes there is nothing better than to walk out late into a dark night of freshly-fallen snow.

On nights of new snowfall, just to step outside is to wander into temporary wilderness. No one is around—and this is a blessing in itself. Everyone has withdrawn into their houses with their televisions or their computer screens. The snow is as yet untrodden, unbroken, a fleeting moment before tomorrow’s schoolkids leave their Braille of footprints.

Then, for just a sacred moment, the busy world is utterly hushed. And a small suburban yard sparkles with reflected stars.

—Jo Page

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