Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Not Winter...Nor Spring

It's that time of year again here in northern New England when there seems to be some indecision as to whether winter is indeed over. Yes, spring is officially only a little more than three weeks away, but we've been known to get some pretty wintry weather at this time of year. It's like Old Man Winter is puffing himself up like the robins I see in the trees outside my window and saying something like "I'm not finished with you yet!" And then, at first light, there are the birds singing as they haven't since last summer, which indicates that we're much closer to the start of spring than to that of winter.

Birds know things we don't about air pressure and sunlight and live their short lives by laws we only find fascinating in the reading of. Although species like the American robin often doesn't migrate very far and the Northern Cardinal never leaves, neither sings until spring, leaving no doubt that the season has indeed arrived.

After the spate of snowstorms we have here recently, this sunshine and higher temperature are both welcome. Snowbanks shrink daily, the sun casts shadows that stick around a bit longer, and even the sky seems bluer between what few clouds there are. There's a smell in the air, too, that is absent during the winter's bleakest moments, the aroma of the earth reawakening and moving back to her vanity where all manner of scents are to be found...that of the thawing soil and the sweet aroma of the burgeoning grass...the intoxicating headiness of the first flowers and the fresh smell of rain washing what's left of winter away.

While winter's not quite done with us yet, I still love this time of year. We can give ourselves permission to hope now, for it no longer takes as long to count out what time is left before the first leaves appear on the trees and the geese head north again.

"Poor, dear, silly Spring," the poet Wallace Stevens wrote..."preparing her annual surprise!" How accurate an assessment that is! For no matter how sure we are that she's coming, no matter how often we greet her or how many winters we've lived through, what she brings is indeed always a surprise and always, always, a lovely one!



Saturday, February 11, 2017

Night Light

As a child, I always assumed that night time meant the complete absence of light. Of course, that was when my youthful imagination came into play based on the many Saturday morning cartoons I watched that always depicted "night" as a solid black screen, often with just two big cartoon character eyes glowing in the middle of it. Since then, I've lived in many different places where the night is hardly ever completely dark, due mainly to the glow from street lights and the porch lights that some people leave on all the time.

My first exposure to total night darkness came when I moved to the woods of Lyman, Maine in 1999. There, I experienced as complete a blackness as is possible, which was hard to get used to at first. But it didn't take me long to come to appreciate it as a comforting shroud that descended on my world at the end of the day. The sounds that came from those woods at night also made for an interesting study in the habits of nocturnal animals, and to which I thrilled each night as I turned off my lights.

In time, though, I realized that, no matter where we are, no night is ever completely devoid of some shred of light, and that is best illustrated when the moon is full or in winter during a snow event. I can still remember how the light from a full moon pierced through the tops of the trees to depict their trunks as long shadows on the pale beige ground. As the moon moved in the sky, the shapes changed accordingly until dissipating at the sun's first touch. If clouds moved in to block the moon's light, the night was still brighter than on nights when the moon had completely waned, bathed in an eerie muted glow that cast everything around me into misty unidentifiable shapes.

After a winter storm, however, moon or no moon, I learned there is always some residual light lingering in the atmosphere, and it is this that the snow appropriates as its own, bouncing off snowbanks, rooftops, from tree branches and reflected on every single falling flake. Snowy nights in the woods are far from dark, and I often went out to experience this along with the softened silence and whispers of flakes falling on dried leaves.

There was a full moon last night, and once again, my bedroom was bright and the shadows of trees outside my window sharp and long. In spots, the snow was shiny like a new nickel, and in others, its accumulated mass sparkled like piles of gems, free for the taking.

And once again, I joyfully partook and sent the moon my silent "thanks..."