[Homestead] When Winter Comes--Verlyn Klinkenborg
genegerue at ruralize.com
Fri Dec 17 12:12:31 EST 2004
THE RURAL LIFE
When Winter Comes
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: December 17, 2004
For as long as I've lived in the country, I've tried to figure out what it
means to be ready for winter. Every winter brings a different answer. One
year the chimney gets cleaned; one year the rain gutters. One year I stack
enough wood to heat us through May, and one year the garden gets put to bed
properly. But I've never managed to make all these things happen in the
same year. The only constant, year to year, is hay. There's always enough
of it, stacked well before the leaves have finished falling. The horses insist.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm always preparing for a different
winter than the one that comes. When we first bought this small farm, I
discovered that you can muddle through even a hard winter. The power mostly
stays on. The oil man comes on a regular schedule. The phone never goes out.
Sometimes, well below zero, the yard hydrants freeze up, but with a little
heat tape, they thaw again. Even in the dead of winter, the wood man will
make a delivery, though calling him feels like a sober confession of failure.
The last two winters in the Hudson Valley were brutal. Yet they weren't as
long or as hard or as dark as I expected them to be. The winter solstice
comes and goes before the real cold begins, so I always feel that at least
we have that out of the way. No matter how bitter it gets in late January,
it won't be getting any darker. The season is always more transitional than
it seems, as fleeting as summer. Every day is headway toward spring.
No matter how unprepared I am, I always imagine preparing for a winter you
can't muddle through. It's a deep, wooded season. Time pauses and then
pauses again. The sun winks over the horizon, glinting on a snow-swept lake
- just enough light to wake the chickadees.
The eaves are low all around the house that this winter comes to, and I've
surrounded the entire house with cordwood, leaving gaps for the windows and
doors. Winter will go nowhere until I've burned through it all.
I have no plans except to rake the snow off the roof after the next big
blizzard, and carry out the ashes from the woodstove, and read everything
I've ever meant to read.
Of course, a daydream like this isn't really about winter or snow or
firewood or even the feeling of having prepared every last thing that needs
preparing. It's about something far more elemental, the time that moves
through us day by day. It's an old human hope - to have a consciousness
separate from the consciousness of time. But it's always a vain hope.
I'll never get that much cordwood stacked, and never need to. Winter comes
and goes in the same breath, condensing right before your face on a day
when the temperature never gets up to 20 degrees.
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