One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine trees crusted with snow
– Wallace Steven’s
T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but I disagree. For my money, I think it is February that tortures the soul the most. It may be the shortest of months, but the toll it takes upon us is the greatest because it lacks the one thing that sustains us. Hope.
February will go as it comes; in a stinging wind.
We drove an hour North for 20 Prospect Jr.’s hockey game yesterday. Out across the flat, turf farms, and swamp land north of the city. The sunlight diffused through a gauze of clouds, not bright enough to wear sunglasses, not dark enough to open your eyes, the sky and the snow blurring into one another. Only the trees stood out against the gray light; small brown brushstrokes on a canvas of white.
It made me think of days in my youth, out walking on Dan’s farm. We’d put on our Sorrels, and parkas, and tramp back through the corn stubble to the woods, like arctic explorers. Step after step, our boots would crack through the crusted snow, as the wind cut into every sliver of exposed skin. Squinting, and stumbling, we’d reach the shelter of the woods at last. There the birches, and fir trees would break the wind, and we could once more open our eyes.
All around that gray wood, the north side of the trees were covered in a rime of ice. We’d search for the remains of an old Model T, rusting somewhere deep within the wood. I loved the woods in the winter time, it seemed so much larger than it did in the green folds of summer. With no leaves to block our view, and no swamp to wet our feet, the whole woods belonged only to us, and the few deer that watched us as we pushed silently through the thickets.
We’d walk for hours, until frozen and hungry we’d make our way back towards the old red barn in the distance. Our stomachs would groan, and ice would form around our scarves, but we knew that warmth, and home, were waiting.
Like those walks through the winter woods, these days of February seem to be an endless exploration that begins where it ends, in a chair inside the kitchen, with a hot mug to warm our hands. I could ask “what is the point?”, but I already know the answer. Some journeys exist just to test our strength.
February will winnow the strong from the weak like it always does. This is not an expedition for which we will be awarded with treasure. The only point is to finish, and live to walk through the woods again.
As I look out the window of the car on our way home, the sun has faded even more, as a froth of gray clouds descends from the north. The weatherman on the radio is warning of more snow to come. Already the first flakes have begun to fall.
Eyes half closed to keep out the wind, we search in the distance for the woods.