As I write this, snow is blowing horizontally across my backyard. The wind is whipping the white pine boughs, and the bird feeders are swaying precariously on their shepherd’s poles.
Two downy woodpeckers clutch the finch feeder for dear life, waiting out the gusts until it is safe enough to peck for seed again. The juncos are tucked deep in the bare lilac shrub, seven of them, plump like black and white fruit. In between gusts they pepper the ground beneath the feeder until something startles them and they swoop altogether into the shrub again.
I’ve just returned from some errands. Nothing that couldn’t wait – the post office, Walgreen’s, the library to drop off two not-yet-due books. The errands were an excuse to go out, because the truth is, I love driving in a snowstorm.
There’s something about inching along at 25 mph, both hands on the wheel, zipped into my cozy parka, heat blasting from the dashboard vents, knit hat snug over my ears, crunch of snow under the tires. I find it strangely relaxing.
There were few cars on the road, and those who dared brave the weather crawled along, wipers shushing, windows fogging, snow trailing from their roofs like wisps streaming off a mountain peak. I feel a kinship with these weather-be-damned wanderers. Some are undoubtedly on the road because they have to be, some simply because they want to be, like me.
When I stepped through the automatic doors of Walgreen’s I saw the store was empty, save a mom and her daughter. The girl was sick; I could tell by her red-rimmed nose and glassy eyes. A fuzzy, pink robe hung below her jacket. “What a disappointment to be sick on a snow day,” the pharmacy clerk said to her, smiling sympathetically as the girl leaned heavily against the counter.
The post office was empty too, and that never happens. I strode directly up to the counter and in two minutes flat made the arrangements to mail my package. I wondered if the clerk thought it odd that I chose book rate, the slowest delivery method, yet braved a blizzard to get to the post office today. I didn’t offer an explanation for my seemingly contradictory actions.
Back on the road, the snow and wind had worsened. Earlier, when I had looked at the weather-in-motion radar image on my laptop, the storm swirled, an impressive swath of blue over most of Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Instead of moving west to east across the Great Plains like storms in this part of the country typically do, it was circling counter clockwise, like a hurricane. Clearly I had departed my house in the eye and was now being lashed by the tail.
I turned the car toward home.
I used to detest winter, and I still don’t like when the temperature is so frigid that I can’t even walk the dog. But in recent years I’ve found the winter months are growing on me.
January and February’s calendar pages offer a welcome white space that matches the austere emptiness of the outdoors. My days are generally quieter, my social and work life less frenetic. Most evenings I’m happy to be buttoned into my flannels by 7, in bed by 9, an open book propped on my chest.
By mid-March I’ll be anxious to get into the garden. I always have to hold myself back from bagging up the dead oak leaves that blanket the flower beds, so eager am I to plunge my hands into still-chilled soil, to uncover tender green shoots.
But for now I am content to stay cocooned, quiet and slow, resting, like a papery tulip bulb biding its time deep beneath the dirt.