Member's Anthology

Winter

By Laila Brady Walzer

I am sitting outside in the gray day, one of those numerous and abbreviated winter days of almost equal length to each other. The pendulum of the Earth has been flung to its limit, and pauses in the cold, silent vacuum, quivering daily by a minute or two I know the Earth is poised to rush back, tilting headlong towards the sun, bringing light, warmth, life. As I sit in the frozen near-silence, though, bundled in a comfortable hodge-podge of clothes, this is just a theoretical concept, and I find strength and renewal in the raw stillness, the dull and unchanging snow.

A favorite moth-eaten hat and scarf and a voluminous, black synthetic-down vest top off my outfit. Under the hat I’ve jammed one of those festive, cheap, Indian-print cotton scarves with silver threads running through. I’ve found after a wash or two that the silver begins sticking up at odd angles, crimping, falling off. Then they’re reborn and re-found in delightful places – clinging to my dog’s whiskers, for example, or to the back of my husband’s jeans. When I glimpse myself in the mirror, silver threads circling my head, I amuse myself by imagining that my brain is fraying, that I am shedding bits of myself, continually re-birthing a clearer and cleaner me. The found threads serve as a playful and irreverent testimony to the surprise gifts that well from letting go.

I have sat outside in all weather, all seasons, back when I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and here in the Catskill woods where I now find my home. I was never one who hated the City, in fact I loved it, but could usually be found outdoors – Brighton Beach in the winter, my Brooklyn apartment rooftop in the summer, Prospect Park at cherry blossom time, and always walking in the open air, rather than taking public transportation. When I finally moved upstate, it was towards an opportunity rather than away from the City.

A distant stream hushes over the rocks, and an occasional wild bird calls. I have opened the barn door for the chickens, but they have declined to come out in the cold. Instead they gather and rustle around their feeder, silhouetted against the barn windows, chuckling and musing. Daisy, one of my dogs, is on chicken guard duty, and has flopped on the snow, ears alert for predators. Buddy, the other, sits at my feet. I hear a quiet whuffle as he tastes the air.

The breeze shifts and finds small gaps in my attire – between sock and sweatpant leg, at my left ear. I have sat outdoors in all weather, all seasons, all attire, and know that today I will return inside slightly stiff, somewhat chilled. I’m positioned to catch any warmth amid the movement of gray and teal clouds. I tease myself with the sky, fasten on the patches of what might be blue in this gray season, clouds that could make way in 5 minutes, 10, maybe sixty? - to the kiss of the dwindling sun. I love the sun, its warmth and cheer, but in truth I am impassioned by the dimmed season, the days whose ends have been nipped off by the increasing night, like a mistress whose neck is nibbled by her dark lover.

Often as I sit outside, I find strength, peace, grounding, joy. The minerals in the rocks hum to my bones, water and earth seep into my belly and fire sweetly inflames my heart, so that I come back to myself in merging with these elements. And it’s natural to love a fragrant spring day, a bright October afternoon, a holy and silent snowfall. But in this season the generous earth has surrendered herself to be crushed, silenced, stilled by the cold and dark. She has the devotion to permit herself to be wholly slain. And she has the courage to receive the ecstasy of complete surrender. If I dare admit it, I sit reverent in my fool’s raiment, her awed and willing disciple.

My feet stir slightly, disturbing a sage plant under the white, releasing its still-pungent odor. Buddy gets up and pads over to Daisy. He sniffs her slowly and carefully, circles her, then dashes forward and mock-snaps at her leg. She climbs to her feet and mouths him back. Neutered at one year, Buddy can still “do the deed.” They begin to feint and tumble in dog foreplay.

The sun unveils, cascading a small warmth onto my upturned face. It illuminates the edges of the cloud rolling by, glistens on the ground, strikes the blue-green kale in its mulch of golden straw. The dogs’ collar tags jingle in their play and the breeze picks up. It unfolds a silver thread from my scarf which dances before my eyes, first shining - and now, as the sun re-veils, indistinct in the sudden shadow.

I will soon close the barn doors, call the dogs, and go in to a hot cup of nettle tea. Later I will bake and eat some sage-honey cornbread, perhaps melt some local goat cheese on top. But right now, as the jingle of my dogs’ collars becomes the peal of wedding bells, as the distant stream hushes hallelujah, as the first shivers begin, I sit and am absurdly happy.