Reckoning & Delight 3
I woke up with the color blue gray in my mind, a very particular shade of blue gray, one that is the exact shade of the winter sky as it fades from afternoon to twilight.
I am a voracious dreamer; I often go through stretches of time when my dream life is so active I wake up worn out and sore, as though I’ve been physically as well as mentally active in my sleep. At the risk of sounding like a cliché of a writer, I confess that I dream in stories and these stories have often shown up in my writing. I have never dreamt of a color, though, this is new.
I was driving north on Highway 95 along the St. Croix River, on my way home from the food co-op in Stillwater to my home at about four in the afternoon. It was the dog days of late fall, the days when it doesn’t get light until well after I’ve had my coffee and gets dark again not long after I’ve had my lunch.
Dog days doesn’t have the same ring to it that it does when one refers to summer, does it? What would this be, then? The grizzly bear days of fall? The arctic fox days? I don’t know, but goes on my list of things to ponder.
Four o’clock is twilight. We’d just gotten a dusting of snow, finally. The light reflecting off the snow against stark silhouettes of trees was that particular shade of gray blue. I felt weightless, buoyed by that light.
The adult in me says I should be grateful for the mild fall with warm temperatures and little precipitation. I haven’t even gotten out my winter parka yet. But the child in me, or perhaps the invincible, no-consequence fearing part of me is hungry for a good old-fashioned blizzard.
A few weeks ago, when I was steeped in a crisis of faith, I received a book in the mail with no note, no indication of its origin other than a Missouri return address. The book was Katherine May’s Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, a meditation on the gifts that dark times can give us if we allow ourselves to reflect upon them. I’d just been talking about the book with friends, so I assumed one of them sent an anynomous gift, but they cheerfully said they had not. I later found out that it was from my sister-in-law; she’d come across it while browsing and thought of me. It was as though she’d been reading my mind as she is sometimes wont to do.
I’ve been devouring it—and trying to pace myself. After all, there are only a finite number of pages, each one is delicious. I have been ruminating on winter and the magic it provides. When I think of what is bringing me joy, what is inspiring sheer childlike wonder, it is snow. Just as I was readying myself to put pen to paper, I happened to read a chapter in Wintering that took the word right out of my mouth.
“Try as I might, I can’t produce the adult hardness towards a snowfall, full of resentment at the inconvenience. I love the inconvenience the same way I sneakingly love a bad cold: the irresistible disruption to mundane life, forcing you to stop of a while and step outside your normal habits. I love the visual transformation it brings about, the recoloring of the world into sparkling white, the way that the rules change so that everybody says hello as they pass. I love what it does to the light, the purplish clouds that loom before it descends and the way it announces itself from behind your curtains in the morning, glowing a diffuse whiteness that can only mean snow.”
It is really quite perfect. To my ear, this paragraph hits the exact adult-sized magic that snow provides. There was a time when this might make me feel inconsequential. When I’d have put my pen down and thought, why bother? This topic has already been covered and so much better than I could ever hope to. This would have triggered feelings of utter irrelevance, and I would have badgered myself for my complete lack of originality.
Today, I feel joyousness instead. I feel a sense of kinship, unity with all those who have felt exhilarated by the harshness of winter. I marvel at the thread that connects me to a person I’ve never met, much less commiserated with. As when I was a child reading books about other children who thought or felt as I did: different, bookish, weird, adventurous.
I remember when I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time. Anne named places in the landscape and talked to the birds and trees and I remember feeling inflated. I, too loved to carry on conversations with my surroundings, though I’d long since learned to keep those conversations in my head. Fictional character or not, my loneliness at being the weird kid was assuaged: I was not alone in this weirdness.
Now, today, thirty years later, I revel in the spiritual company, the kindred spirt feeling it allows. Not just in the connection, but in the banishment of that insecurity and sense of scarcity that crashed into my conscience as a young adult. That voice that suggested that ideas and inspiration were scarce resources to be horded, to compete for. The same voice that I’ve actually heard from fellow writers or students in classes I’ve taught: “that’s already been done. Sylvia Plath already covered that. Do you really think you could do that topic better than Alice Munro?”
What a burden to be free of: the competition for inspiration. What a selfish, egotistical act that competitiveness is. Afterall, why on earth do we think that there are finite measures of inspiration out there? The idea is akin to thinking there is only a finite amount of love or joy in the world, just silly. Why, then do we compete for it?
Let me return for a moment to twilight in winter. Not to see if I can one-up Katherine May, but to simply say that despite the fact that the dark comes quickly in these grizzly bear days, the light is unlike any other, crystalline and luminous, reaching into corners that have been insulated with foliage for months. There is magic in this.
And don’t get me started on the sound.