Tag Archives: snowflakes

THE HOURS IN WINTER

IT’S AN ILLUSION, of course, but winter hours seem longer. In summer, when daylight lasts from five in the morning until ten at night, there’s not enough time in the day for everything you want to do. But in winter, time languishes. You can work eight hours, plow the driveway, prepare dinner, eat, clean the kitchen, build a fire in the fireplace, read a book for an hour—and still have most of the evening ahead of you.

Frogs-and-Fishes-ToughBirdsIn the mornings, while I’m filling the bird feeders, a few black-capped chickadees converge even before I’ve finished and land inches from my hands. Other species hide in the evergreens until I’ve gone inside. Only then can I stand in the window and watch finches, juncos, and redpolls that are otherwise only distant, flitting glimpses in the trees. When they come to the feeders they prove to be not indistinct small gray shapes, but vivid individuals brushed with color and detail. A bird is the very embodiment of wildness, and when it accepts our offerings of sunflower and suet, the space between us fills somehow.

Of course birds aren’t the only wildlife we can watch in winter. Years ago a few friends and I used to set off every winter on canoe and camping trips down rivers in northern Michigan. During those expeditions we would see dozens, sometimes hundreds of whitetail deer yarded in the cedar swamps, where they had packed the snow beneath the trees as thoroughly as cattle yards and trimmed the foliage to the precise height they could reach. The deer were unaccustomed to seeing humans at that time of year, so they behaved as if unobserved, nuzzling one another, rising delicately on their hind legs to strip cedar boughs with their teeth. We often drifted within a few feet of them bedded on the banks and as long as we made no sudden movements they simply watched us, conserving their energy.

Sometimes otters swam near and raised themselves half out of the water to watch us in our canoes. One January we counted a dozen bald eagles during two days on the Au Sable River. We viewed them at close range, perched on pine branches above the river, eyeing us with interest as we drifted beneath.

On bright winter days when I’ve had enough of staying indoors, I dress in sweater and coat, pull on insulated boots, grab leather mittens and a wool hat and walk the woods and meadows near home to see what I can see. When I slow down to look time seems to grow more tangible. I can almost weigh it in my hand—can almost see the bright moments falling like snowflakes around me.Frogs-and-Fishes-NatureBaroque

 

NOVEMBER NOTES, WITH THANKS

ON THE EVE OF THANKSGIVING, in this year of complexity and setbacks, when I have more to be thankful for than ever, I’ve found myself going through my notebooks looking for observations from previous Novembers. Here are a few of them:

The trees as bare as bones, standing shocked, and the hills are blank and blanketed. We don’t see the true face of the world except in glimpses. We are not shown the whole of the world: we deduce it from evidence.

But the lake is as open and guileless as a child’s face. [1985]

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Frogs-and-Fishes-NatureBaroque

[art courtesy of Glenn Wolff Studio]

Last night the season’s first snow, and now, this morning, the world is altered. This blink to whiteness, this switching off of color, this monochromatic strangeness that takes my breath away, as if I were seeing the world for the first time. [1985]

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In Michigan woods—beechnut scent and crushed ferns, the stink of swamp and raw loam. Squirrels rustle in the leaves. Angle of sunlight so clearly a northern autumn. Breeze, then stillness. The approach of winter has me excited beyond reasoning. Our days diminish. Nights grow cold. We gather what nuts we can. [1986]

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November 5, first snowstorm warnings for tonight. Now at 10:30 in the morning, the world outside my window is as dark as evening and wet snowflakes plummet down and splash in the puddles. Snowflakes fill the sky like a plague of insects. The sky is low and glowering, full of bluff, and I am glad to be inside, warm, in a well-lit office with work to do. [1990]

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[art courtesy of Glenn Wolff Studio]

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The storm that blasted Minnesota and Wisconsin yesterday is here now: powerful redwinds, cold, snow pellets hitting the windows like someone’s throwing handfuls of gravel at the glass. [1991]

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November 6 and it feels like real winter. The snow and cold have settled in like guests who show up at the door unannounced, with numerous fat suitcases, and walk in and make themselves at home. “We’ll take the upstairs bedroom,” they say. “What’s for dinner?”
We’ve got 6-8 inches on the ground, but inland and north there’s 20 inches. [1991]

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The south wind is mild and misleading: it shoves huge waves the length of the bay and strips their frothing tops ahead in banners. No boat could last out there. From my office the wind roars overhead, doubling in strength at intervals. The power flickers; the house gives a lurch; curtains lift and fall. The wind is like a shepherd’s dog herding autumn away. [1994]

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[photo courtesy of Chelsea Bay Design]

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Summer and winter are the long seasons, when for weeks on end nothing changes. But autumn is all change. Every day brings variety and transformation. It’s the season of plenty, or decline, downturn and decay. It’s richer for being brief. It has simmered down to its essence. It’s a roux of a season. [1995]

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Early this morning, four am, November 22, first snow: bb’s rolling on the driveway, spinning across the hood of the car and hopping through the air as if they were charged with static. Wind huffing and gusting and banging the windows and doors. A night as dark as the inside of a pocket. [1997]

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[Common Redpoll. Photo by Mike Wisnicki, from allaboutbirds.com]

Stood on the steps outside my office admiring a redpoll on a branch of the cherry tree. Until a week ago I don’t recall ever seeing a redpoll at our feeders. We were thrilled to see the first one, and had that feeling, familiar I think to anyone who feeds birds, that we’re honored to have them.

I took a step forward and two or three hundred redpolls lifted from the tall grass beside my office and rose in a rush of wings to the cherry and walnut trees. They were like a reversal of fall — leaves returning to their branches. [2007]

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Reached 70 degrees yesterday, election day, the day optimism returned. Gail noted how bright with copper colors—burnt sienna—the trees have become. Aaron back from NY and staying with us until he can find an apartment. We played basketball in teeshirts at lunch. [2008]

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I love this yellow season. Always one day when most of the leaves dump all at once. Ours was last Thursday at dusk, in the rain. Yellow leaves plummeted like wet snowflakes in one of those windless mountain-pass snowfalls—a sudden silent fall of half a foot in ten minutes. [2009]

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Nov 17—First snow. An inch on the ground, and a strong wintry wind carrying more. Except the wind is from the south, fraudulent. [2011]

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460762483Standing in the open meadow beneath the night sky. The idea that the infinity of space among the stars is matched by the infinity of space among the atoms of our bodies. Freud said the unconscious—the interior universe—was inexhaustible. The exterior universe is, too. Infinite and inexhaustible.Within us is a great absence. Not necessarily an emptiness. It’s an absence that periodically fills. It’s where grief dwells, and joy. It’s where we find what is true. If we’re terrified by it, who can blame us? [2012]

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Gail, Chelsea, Aaron, Nick, Midori and I went to Mom and Dad’s and raked their leaves. Three hours of pure fun, using combination of leaf-blower, riding tractor, and, everyone’s favorite by consensus, old-fashioned rakes and tarps, raked up twenty or thirty big piles and hauled them out back to the compost heaps. Everyone jolly and energized. Midori scooting around on a blanket in the shade—she’s almost crawling, got the general hang of it, pure determination. She sees something she wants and scoots across the blanket until she gets it. Mighty girl. [2016]

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Midori, first snow, November 2016