Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Winter Wonderland

It’s hard to know how to take the loss of winter. Most people are happy and congratulate each other on it. They smile on twitter and face book, crowing over the warmth and the lack of snow. And I, twisted this way and that, sorrow in my heart. I miss the bright red of the cardinals in the snowy bushes or the dear plump grey caped juncos hopping in and out of the tracks my husband and I leave in the snow after we fill the feeders. I miss the intense cold of winter, when it’s so cold that no one is out and when I go to the river, each sound is crystal clear. The downy woodpeckers sound off as do the chickadees and I listen to breaks of ice in the river as it hardens and forms and floats. Winter is cold and it’s bitter but it has a blue beauty of all it’s own and I miss it.

Due to winter not being here, I can take walks everyday in my jeans and my tennis shoes. It’s a little cold but not bad as long as I take a quick pace. Everything is brown and olive. The trees are. The goldfinches are. The big windmill overlooking the park is. People bike furiously past me every day. They’re mostly men and mostly frown. Biking seems hard work even without snow.

The days pass and they are easy on all of us. The temperature hangs around forty and it makes so much easier for grocery shopping, visiting with friends, eating out. It is a world held in suspension. I haven’t been able to smell the snow yet. I haven’t shoveled and I haven’t marveled at the sculptures snow and ice make. Life is easier but it’s loss is the toothy edge that Nature always brings. I hope this easy winter makes life lighter for the birds and squirrels and other wild things but I worry about the turtles and frogs coming up too soon believing it is spring and then losing them to the deep winter that may come still.
I haven’t had to fight in this winter, where I grow cold constantly, where I just want to sleep forever. Missing winter is like missing a great cold god. Sure, they’re mean, sure they try to kill you but hey, they’re mysterious and beautiful and as it happens, you aren’t starving and you can get through the experience of this god with relative ease as long as you drive safe on the roads.

This crownless god crawls in at night however. Every night, the temperature plummets to the teens and when I rise in the morning, everything is sheeted in the handiwork of the winter kingdom. The car’s windows are scrolled in feathers and diamonds and the grass snaps white in the bright sun. I gaze from without and gaze and gaze. Maybe there’s hope the god will come back. Maybe we’ll get to see the dazzling change we see every year and complain about. I want to complain about it. I need to complain about the cold and then have it take my breath away with it’s sharp hard beauty.

The sun is setting now in shades of orange and apricot, setting where I can’t see it, I only see the afterglow. One more day to go and then the weatherman says, the Artic cold will come in and all this warmth and dryness will pass away. So when that happens, I’ll head out with a shovel and salute the glorious day. Winter is coming after all. We get to see it at least for this year, I dearly hope.

 

Comments (1):

  1. Cindi

    January 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Beautiful way of describing your feelings about it, Catherine. I too, have always loved the colors of winter, the stark contrasts found in snow. The bluish/purple shadows to the yellow/orange glow of reflected light from a setting sun. Then to see the dark brown leafless limbs reach up into a bright pink & orange horizon where it fades back to deep blue. It amazes me every year when I see it. I try to photograph it but of course, my attempts don’t do it justice. I’ve always felt it was a gift to us, the beauty. But I was surprised this year to not miss it, at least yet. I was glad Doug didn’t have to be out in it, shoveling, etc. & was glad I didn’t have to be cautious when walking on ice. And it’s been so nice to open doors and have the fresh air come in but still be warm. But just this afternoon as I was thinking about it, I wondered if there are important things lost when winter doesn’t come. Then I remembered a few winters where the winter came in late but we had LOTS of snow when it did. Thanks for sharing. I really enjoy reading what you write.

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The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.

The Delicate Balance of a Crescent Moon

Spring is turning towards summer now. It began so delicately with a soft green — the hue of a tender rumor murmured only in off moments — but then the green rumor became bold, became the truth, and over the course of seemingly a night the grass is long, the trees are full, and the peonies are about to bloom. Every night I smell smoke and charcoal, my neighbors busy with their grills. They mow their lawns, weed their flower beds, dump their mulch, and then go to their backyards to cook up dinner.

I do none of these things. The rhythms of suburbia are pleasing to watch with their precise, ticking movements but they are less pleasing to indulge in. There’s a deep pressure to conform, and so I recede to the sanctuary of my old deck, watching the birds and bumblebees pass through my yard.

I’ve been toying with the idea of sinking a spade into the ground, ridding one area of hideous orange daylilies and planting a few tiny bits of bleeding heart and bluebell, gifts from a friend. It’s been years since I’ve played in the dirt, dug around, sorted things out, grimaced at the grubs and bugs that emerge from the dirt. Intolerable joint pain cut off many activities, and gardening was the first to go. But this year, after so many years of pursuing healing and wellness, I am feeling better and I think it might be time to poke and prod at the earth again. To see what I can do about weeds and debris.

But then again, this might not happen. The doctor told me yesterday that my body was “currently struggling with inflammation due to increased activity,” that I need to take it slower, that I needed to continue working on a low-inflammation diet.

Dreams of gardening haze in and out. It might happen this weekend, but it might not until later. Depression surges forward and I struggle with it. Life is hard with fibromyalgia and chronic pain, and there are always so many small, difficult choices to make. I chose to increase my exercises by a small amount last week; my body responded with intense shoulder pain and a flare up of inflammation throughout my system — primarily in my hands, shoulders, back, feet. It is just this way and I walk slowly through it, sometimes crying but mostly not, because life has been like this for years now and slowly, as time passes, the tears dry up.

Pain makes us discard some goals and pick others up.

There is a waning crescent moon in the sky, a thin sliver that sets in midafternoon and rises in early morning. It will soon be a new moon and then we will pass into summer.