Thoughts at the end of winter

This is a rather odd time of year.

This is the month when the Venerable Bede said that the pagans offered cakes to the goddess Ostara, so modern neo-pagans are all acting like “it’s spring!” They’re putting spring hyacinths and daffodils on the altars (forced in greenhouses). Optimists.

It snowed again today. It was 50 f. (10 c.) inside today (away from the woodstove), and about 20 f. (-7c.) outside. The thermometer says it’s gotten up to 40 degrees (4.4 c.) but it lies. I know it lies. It’s in the sun. Out of the wind. We (humans, with nerve endings in fingers and toes) know it’s freaking cold. Yes, the chickens and geese may have started laying because the minutes of daylight are increasing, but we take their eggs away because if they hatched any time soon, the hens couldn’t keep the chicks alive. Baby goats burrow in the hay, and need a heat lamp. Even in England it’s 6.7 c. (44 f.), so it’s not even that New England is colder. I’m sure we have more snow.

The plow piles at the edge of the driveway, while getting grey and pockmarked, like old toast, and shrinking are still nearly 6 feet tall. The snow has compacted, into rock hard, toast textured slabs of ice; if you try to dig a path for the oil man it doesn’t take long before you think: “Tough, he can walk on top of the crust, like the rest of us.”

But we don’t stay on top. If you try to walk on it (and you’re not a kid)  your feet will decide to slip, outwards, suddenly and painfully stretching muscles you hadn’t extended since you were light enough to stay on top of the crust. When you force them to stay under you, they breaking through the crust, irregularly enough that you cannot maintain a rhythm in walking, and also resulting in dagger-like shards of hardened snow that cut into your ankles… above the shoe, below the hem.  One doesn’t want to anthropomorphize and say that it’s trying to hurt you; of course it isn’t, it’s just inanimate (moving) old snow, spikes and shards, a sparkling pain delivery system.

So we stay inside. We look out the windows- at the pile of brush that needs burning. Now would be a good time while there’s still ground cover. But do I want to stand out there for several hours, blowing through my gloves to try to keep my fingers flexing, and at the same time, if I approach the fire is so hot it will melt my synthetic sweater into lumps? Freezing for hours? I think I’ll find something more appealing to do inside. (Scrubbing the toilets, investigating the back of the refrigerator…)

And yet, I cannot go out to put a piece of mail in the box, to get into the car on the way to the store or the library, without smelling that sweet perfume. The air tells us that soon, maybe even next week, all this serene white expanse with reddish and greenish, and purplish twigs sticking up through it, will be a vast expanse of variegated brown mud.

Our sense of smell, more subtle, and linked more closely than any of our other senses to memory, knows that that scent is spring. That scent kept our ancestors alive, kept them digging through the last of the stored parsnips and carrots, trimming the soft spots; it kept them from throwing themselves in the holes in the ice where the snow-melt is beginning to swell the river, it let them know that as cold as it is, Ragnarok is not coming THIS year. Soon the snow will melt away, and even as we flex our toes inside our shoes to keep them warm, the season is turning.

Breathe. Think thoughts of spring. Think thoughts of winter and what is under the snow. Go back inside and have some stew, or tea, and be glad for the heat- whether central heating or a woodstove. Next month we will start moving, but this is the time of year for pondering.

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