A Winter Memory
For the last twenty years of my life I have lived in South Carolina. It is the end of October as I write these lines. It is raining and cool. Indications that winter is coming on. But winter is different here from what I remember in my youth. I seldom need a heavy jacket here in Charleston, S.C. The "natives" go about wrapped in great coats and scarves and knit caps. Shoulders shrugged forward against the cold. And I in my shirt sleeves marvel in disbelief at their descriptions of this as winter. Why, this is an April day where I come from! I frequently recall snow falls on Easter Sunday. Other days when the high temperature was a negative five degrees. That's winter! And of course, the snow. That most wonderous fluffy form of water that drdfts downward from the infinite gray. I use to stand and stare up into the falling snow and watch it drift past me in slow motion, And the sensation of not the snow but myself that was moving was overwhelming, Drifting aimlessly upward in a sea of gray dotted with flakes.
And what I see of the earth in winter is merely its outline. For the life-stuff is gone. The bare framework of nature is exposed. And always against that all prevading gray. It is as if the earth is a great sleeping giant. And while it sleeps, the warmth goes out of the earth and winter arrives. Nature is thus laid bare. And the white robe that nature adorns in winter become a testament and promise of the deep down purity of the earth. And tomorrow is November.
There is a feeling in stepping out onto the back porch on a cold winter's day to begin the trudge to school that is matched by no other for its paticular shade of beauty. It involves seeing the frosty breath, hearing the crunch of fresh snow underfoot, and inhaling the clean fresh odor of the air. And in the late afternoon of some long ago December or January with six to eight (and if I am lucky maybe ten) inches of snow on the ground, I take a walk out into the snow. As everyone knows, large fluffy flakes imply a short snowfall time. The smaller flakes mean a long snowfall time. I pray for the smaller flakes though the large ones are more beautiful. To walk alone among the trees in a snowfall and hear the soft hiss of the falling flakes and see the dark craggily outlines of the barren trees save for the flakes the limbs collect, is a religious experience. Not even the most exquisite array of spring flowers can come close to the particular beauty of nature's winter.
And now today I sit in my den in Charleston and gaze out my windows above my desk? Out in the yard--still with a full green lawn--the October sun peeks through a window in the clouds. There is the oak tree still fully leaved. Across the street to the field beyond with its complement of fully leaved trees and shrubs my gaze continues. And then beyond the trees and the field to the marshes where an egret still moves slowly among the reeds. A squirrel darts across my lawn, Stopping here and there to search and dig. Suddenly disturbed by a passing auto, it scrambles up the large oak to the safety of the branches.
And tomorrow is November. And as all memories are tucked away into our neurons for a particular reason, there is reason to my love of winter. I love winter not for its sake alone, but because of a deeper reason. Not just hot cider, warm fires, or walks in the snow in an evening with a special girl. It has to do with sled riding on Reservoir Hill with Tom, Steve, John, Phil, Mike and others. Memories that seem rather trivial on first inspection, but carry with them a deeper, unspoken, and firmly noted reason. In the early dark of a late afternoon in January--if there was sufficient snow--all of my crowd could be found sled riding on Reservoir Hill in Parkersburg.
The "Hill" was actually quite hazardous. The track that was the favorite riding lane began at the very top just a few feet from the high concrete wall surrounding the reservoir. And this was separated from us by a cheap and trembling wire fence. The first leg of the run was a sudden drop of fifteen to twenty feet that was easily sixty degrees in slope. From there it leveled off rapidly to a gentler slope toward a large old maple tree. It then veered to the left to a steeper slope that extended two-hundred feet ina fairly straight path on down the hill. At the end of this was a quick dip then suddenly to the crest of a steep thirty to forty foot drop of fifty degrees. Then quickly onto a flat area of a hundred feet or so. At the end of this was a barbed wire fence (the bottom wire missing). One had to push hard against the sled to avoid the wire as one rapidly passed under it. Many a "man" went home with the seat of his pants ripped open. It was a mark of macho. It was a mark of being tested and of being found worthy. The entire run extended several hundred yards all told. Once under the fence, one ended up deep in the surrounding woods, Alone. Cold. And quiet. Save for the familiar and lovely sound of falling snow. If one were lucky, he might look up from his sled and spy the dark but bright red color of a cardinal against the green fit trees fluffed with snow. It might even call out to its mate oblivious of the human intruder. There in the quiet white woodland, cold and shivering, nature displayed her beauty of color and form. It is as if nature had saved this moment of exquisite beauty for itself. And did so only vhen no other eyes were there to perceive it save these eyes of the Creator. I was an intruder into this display. It was not meant for human eyes. And so I will savor this moment forever, in my reverie: that one brief moment alone with God and sharing the beauty of what is in winter.
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