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Magnetic North: Dark and True and Tender

Magnetic_North_20141101_Dark_and_Ture_and_Tender.mp37.91 MB

Welcome back to Magnetic North where signs of winter are hard to ignore. Besides the naked trees and frosty mornings, winter reminders show up even indoors. On kitchen countertops, coffee turns cold and butter gets hard. Mukluks and mittens creep out of summer storage. And on the sweeter side, the incense of wood smoke fills the air.

As for me, I am a cold weather junkie. So comfortable in semidarkness that my late husband Paul suspected out loud that I very likely possess the genetic makeup of a bat.

Maybe. For one thing, I am light sensitive - shrinking from bright sunlight ala Bela Lugosi. Even so, my so-called mind gets stuck in neutral. 

Unless I stare at full spectrum lights for half an hour a day from October through March. 

Leaving all the light/dark nonsense aside, I live for the first snow and curling up in the snug cocoon of a winter’s eve inside. I love stoking the wood furnace, tending the fire on the hearth and even the incessant trips to the woodshed. 

For folks like me, being outside on a clear winter’s night, the cathedral of stars overhead - uncompromised in brilliance by streetlights - is a spiritual high. I don’t even need Northern Lights to turn on the joy. And then there is that delicious cold air - nothing compares.

Lest I come off as a complete Pollyanna about our winters here, believe me I am not. Alongside those handsome mukluks in the back hallway there will soon appear four grungy black rubber buckets, frozen solid with water you really ought not examine too closely. 

The barn and coop and rabbit room water often freezes in the buckets. Water bottles require delivery three times a day. Two of those times in darkness, as the headlamp slowly creeps from my forehead and over my eyes. All the while my mind wills my ten frozen toes to grip what is left of a solid surface on the paths to barn and coop.

Just today, I sat in a spotlight of golden sunlight on the back deck, and watched my three gray goose girls, Ducky, Ziva and Abby, dip their black beaks into a bucket of clean water, then throw droplets over their pretty heads onto necks and backs. Lovely,....and yet. Today, the wind from the east is reminds me that this selfsame morning grooming ritual, done inside the goose house in a bucket, creates a straw and ice glacier by February. This morning, however, the only white stuff I see is frost on the deck railing.  Deciduous trees are bare. Evergreens alone carry color as they stand sentry over the forest for the next six months. And but for the golden tamaracks and the crimson mountain ash berries, the view takes on a sepia hue.  Sooner than I can imagine, all will be white.

This shoulder season, in-between the departure of leaves and the arrival of snow, feels clunkier to me than before. Less the smooth transition of past years. And more like shifting gears with a funky clutch. The ducks plastic kiddy pool is still inside the chicken run and I find myself resisting the final fill-up and stowaway. Another week of this dallying and the hose will freeze and my decision will be made for me. 

So be it. My evasion of winter readiness is totally sane. The winter of 2013-14 casts its dark shadow on our collective memories. Some of us moved south. Others bought new four-wheel drive cars, or stocked up on expensive yarns, or filled the freezer and every spare bit of closet space with canned foods. And some did what they swore they would never, ever do again and hooked up to satellite tv. Don’t judge. If you weren’t here last winter, for the ENTIRE winter, you just don’t get to judge.

That said, I still expect to love winter. Still look forward to riding the kick sled at midnight under the stars. Entering the chicken coop bathed in the glow of the Christmas light strung around the window pane. 

For me, loving the cold and dark is like inviting my own shadow side in for coffee. Discovering that I, like the North, can be “dark and true and tender” all at the same time.

So, have faith, my friends. And, while you’re at it, have a well-stocked woodpile and extra flashlight batteries. Me? I’ll be knitting and spending many of the dark hours in the dual glow of my fireplace ....and my newly installed tv.

(Photo by Martha Marnocha)