The Winter Solstice was a few weeks ago and we’re already seeing the sun set later and rise a bit earlier. But “true Winter” finally came to my Bit of Earth this week.
Genuinely cold weather, made even colder yet by strong winds, slipped down from the Northwest yesterday — here I am in the Potomac rivershed, breathing icy air from Northern Canada. Even a quick run from the house to the car is now bone-chilling. It’s terrible weather for those who must work outside and for homeless people. (Please check the cold weather hotline for your area and enter it into your cell phone so that you’ll have it when needed. In D.C., “[t]ransportation to [a] shelter is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you see someone outside in need of shelter or a welfare check, call the Shelter Hotline at (202) 399-7093 or dial 311. If there is an immediate risk to safety call 911. When calling, please include the time, the address or location of the sighting, and a description of the person’s appearance.
Families seeking emergency shelter can call the DC Shelter Hotline at (202) 399-7093 or 311 at any time day or night. Families may also visit the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center at 920 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, Monday through Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. The Center is closed on Federal holidays.” If you have the number in your cell, you can easily call when you find someone who needs help — or give the number to them. Most shelters will also bring soup, blankets, gloves, etc. to someone who refuses to come to a shelter. If, like me, you save scraps and knit caps all year while watching movies, you can hand them out immediately and help keep people warm. We lose a LOT of heat from our heads, although give me gloves and socks any day.)
But for those of us fortunate enough to be able to stay inside, these days can be a blessing. Yoga pants, a sweater or sweatshirt, fuzzy socks, and a mug of hot tea — it’s a good time to try dandelion, mugwort, ginger, or parsley root. A chance to watch that clear Winter sunlight illuminate every surface (I always learn where I forgot to clean!). To savor the snug feeling of listening to the wind wuther around the corners of the cottage while the cats refuse to let you get up; your lap is the best thing about you — besides the opposable thumbs that let you open cans of food.
And being safe inside while lamb stew bubbles in the crockpot or while lentil soup simmers on the stove makes Winter seem wonderful.
We’re due for snow this weekend — the first we’ve had all year. On my list for tomorrow: get my snow shovel out of shed and spread de-icer on steps. I’ve already been to the grocery store and will park my car at the end of the driveway on Saturday when I get home from the monthly Dem breakfast. I went to the library today, so there are several books to keep me busy and, of course, the seed catalogs have been piling up since even before Yule. (I’ve got another recipe — split pea and smoked sausage soup — just in case the snow lasts longer than expected.)
When Son was little and I was a teacher, snow days meant that we both got to stay home. We usually played Calvinball Scrabble while a pot of soup or chili steamed on the stove.
One long Winter when Son was away at Princeton, an ice storm closed both the school where I worked and my law school. It saved my life; those silent weeks when the electricity stayed on and my modem worked let me catch up on several assignments and my law review responsibilities.
When G/Son was little, his parents let him stay with me during a big snowstorm. He brought an over-the-door basketball hoop with him and spent lots of time dunking a sponge-ball — and listening to me read The Secret Garden . He beat me at Uno a lot, too. We made snow ice cream, and hot chocolate, and green noodles — with pesto that Nonna had frozen over the Summer. And we planned a beach vacation that we actually took a few years later.
Who knows what special things future frozen days will bring?
What are your snuggest Winter memories?
One of my favorite poems in the whole world is Wordsworth’s ode to “an old age/serene and bright/and lovely as a Lapland night/[that] shall lead you to your grave.” I quote it every morning in my daily meditations. Of course, it’s a song of praise to a deep, cold, frozen Winter — the Winter of a Lapland night when the air is so icy that the stars and aurora borealis stand stark and clear in an ink-black sky. I love the idea that, at the end of our lives, we may have the gift of seeing so clearly. I love the idea of a life that has built such a warm shelter and that has woven such thick cloaks that we can dance outside, see the brilliant stars, and then, wander back inside and watch the flames grow low, trundle off to a bed weighted with comforters, and woven blankets, and heavy sheets — and dream deep dreams.
May it be so for you.