Brightside Acres
West Virginia Wildgrown®

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Simple Gifts

Jan 31, 2011

Sixty-two days in, and I freely admit, I'm weary of Winter.

The high temperature on November 30 was 54 degrees. The high on December first was 21, a temperature only rarely reached since. December 2010 was the coldest December in Pocahontas County's recorded history.

And then came the snowdrifts of January. Plans were repeatedly canceled and appointments postponed and all manner of projects put on-hold as Mother Nature demanded my full attention. When she gets into one of these snowy-blowy moods, only a fool ignores her. Trust me, Winter on Top of Allegheny suffers no fools.

Winter in the northern hemisphere is officially defined as the period of time between the Winter Solstice (December 21) and the Vernal Equinox (March 21). In addition to being the coldest time of year, it is also, as a kind of hey, let's get all the bad stuff out of the way at once bonus, marked by the shortest days and longest nights! No wonder black bears spend most of it sleeping. Why the heck not?

So, in purely calendrical terms, Winter will be half-over on February fourth. However, since Winter actually began on December first, I'm choosing to think of it as a little more than two-thirds over. Neat trick, huh? Yep. When you spend a lot of time alone on an Allegheny ridge-top, a snow-struck mind uses any trick it can wrap itself around. Ahem. And, just to be clear, the manifest fact that actual Winter weather may come and go well past March 21 is, well, not something I'm prepared to consider right now. So, be a mensch, would you? Don't remind me. Or if you simply must remind me, come up here and do it in person. I’ve got soup!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on occasion, every-so-often over these past 62 days, I’ve felt myself yearning forward. Leaning into the future as into a strong headwind. Staring squinty-eyed at Spring as if it were a reachable mirage just there, right over there, past the funnel-cloud snow devils whipping up and down the ridge.

As someone who professes to value living in the present, Allegheny Winter truly challenges me to walk the talk.

Nearly every morning she throws this gauntlet: “Be here, now.” And not just when it’s easy. Not just on those rare days when the sun shines in a Caribbean blue sky and the snow sparkles like Swarovski crystal, those days when the beauty of this place enters my blood, rushes through me, fills me with the knowingness of true love.

But on the other days. The days I’d take a one-way trip to the Caribbean and never look back. True love? Yeah, right.

Those are the days Winter grabs my chin in her icy fingers and blows her frigid breath in my face: “Stay with me.” Her voice has a rather unfortunate, snakelike quality that, nonetheless, serves to focus my attention quite well. Such a command conveys a power not unlike that of Robert DeNiro’s character in the Meet the Fockers movies, when he points his index and middle fingers toward his own eyes and then toward Ben Stiller’s.

Some mornings I feel quite willing to salute. Other mornings I’d prefer a gesture just a wee bit less polite.

Either way, suffice it to say, Winter never fails to get my attention.

And it is my attention she never fails to reward. Always when I least expect it. Often, in fact, when I’ve damn near given up.

A bald eagle stands in the middle of the Old Pike just past Spencer’s Ridge. He looks my way, and then lifts off. Two massive flaps take him above the trees and away.

The copper-bright tail of a red-tailed hawk shines like metal captured in a fleeting ray of sunlight.

Chickadees fly from the feeder to the nearby conifers, where they disappear into the cave-like bower created by the lowest, snow-laden bows. Is this, perhaps, where these petite birds shelter at night, during the harshest winds?

Danny, Brightside’s resident nuthatch, hammers sunflower seeds into the cracks in the deck railing, gaining the better advantage from which to pry their innards.

I watch one and then another and then another junco put his feet together and hop backwards to pull snow off of seeds spilled from the feeder.

The Junco Hop.

Did I just see that? I do believe I did.

Winter is teaching me, she is.

No doubt about it, I'm a slow learner, and stubborn to boot.

But, slowly and surely, I'm learning how to unwrap her gifts.