The Bitter Cold

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion. To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from an essay on the cold of winter in
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

 

We’re in the midst of a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies while a nor’easter sends the windchill plummeting. 

Even though it is often called the “Arctic Express” it is not nearly the cold of the midwest plains or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

The cold that descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, pull down power lines and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided.  If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.  

It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we  generate heat, even if we can’t seem to lighten up.

Plum-Tuckered

plums2017

 

plumrain

 

And somehow <she> thrived anyway–the blossom of our family,
like one of those miraculous fruit trees that taps into an invisible vein of nurture
and bears radiant bushels of plums while the trees around it merely go on living.

~Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams

 

silverplums

 

There is a plum tree on our farm that is so plain and unassuming much of the year that I nearly forget that it is there.  It is a bit off by itself away from the other fruit trees; I have to make a point of paying attention to it otherwise it just blends into the background.

Despite not being noticed or having any special care, this tree thrives.  In the spring it is one of the first to bud out into a cloud of white blossoms with a faint sweet scent.  Every summer it is a coin toss whether it will decide to bear fruit or not.  Some years–not at all, not a single plum.  Other years, like this one, it is positively glowing with plum harvest– each a golden oval with a pink blush.   These plums are extraordinarily honey flavored and juicy, a pleasure to eat right off the tree if you don’t mind getting past a bitter skin and an even more bitter pit inside.   This is a beauty with a bite — sweet surrounded by bitter.

I think the tree secretly grins when it sees puckering taking place all around it.

This tree is a lot like some people I know: most of the time barely noticeable, hanging on the periphery,  fairly reserved and unobtrusive.  But when roots go deep and the nourishment is substantial,  they bear a bounty of fruit, no doing things half-way.   The feast is plentiful and abundant, the meal glorious despite the hint of sour.  Maybe it is even more glorious because of sweet within bitter.

If “tucker” describes a great down-home meal, then being “plum-tuckered” would be eating our fill of the bitter-sweet.  Even when the bitter in this life is plentiful,  the sweet will always overwhelm and overcome.

 

plum8161

 

plum8162

Bitter, Inimical, Implacable Cold

icywindshield3

frost1411

Cold is an absence, an absence of heat, and yet it feels like a presence–a vigorous, hostilely active presence in the air that presses upon your naked face and that makes your fingers and toes ache within their mittens and boots.  Cold is always working, it seems– busy freezing water in the ponds and rivers, knitting intricate six-sided snowflakes by the billions, finding cracks around the walls and windows of your house, forcing furnaces in the cellar to roar away.

I like winter because it locks me indoors with my books, my word processor, and my clear and brittle thoughts. There is a visual poetry that goes with the cold.  Ferns and stars of frost mysteriously appear on the windows and take their place in a child’s mythology.

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion.   To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from “The Cold”

Today, a goodly portion of the eastern seaboard of the United States is bracing for a mammoth blizzard immobilizing travelers and rendering folks home-bound. Meanwhile, here in the Pacific Northwest, our temperature reached an unseasonably balmy 60 degrees yesterday.

Even in our relative warmth here, we’ve already endured our string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies once the frozen fog abates.  Several feet of snow are back on our summer drought-bared hills and mountains.  During our cold snaps, everything shimmers with diamonds of frosty glitter all day long.  It is the kind of cold this Pacific Northwest native can actually enjoy.  It is not the cold of the midwest plains, or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not natural or seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

We are not always so lucky here.  The cold that sometimes descends in northeast winds from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

Bitter cold or a heavy snow storm ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our whole nation is in just such a bitter, inimical, implacable political cold snap today, terribly divided as we suffer through one of the most hostile and regrettable presidential election cycles in memory.

If we don’t come in out of the societal deep freeze that is afflicting us all, we each will perish alone.   It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we can generate heat, even if we can’t manage to lighten up.

bakerlight2

icywindshield4

Lenten Grace — A Table in the Wilderness

devilstowerwyomingIMG_0100

…faith finds food in famine, and a table in the wilderness.
In the greatest danger, faith says, “I have a great God.”
When outward strength is broken, faith rests on the promises.
In the midst of sorrow, faith draws the sting out of every trouble,
and takes out the bitterness from every affliction.
~Richard Cecil

The table set for us in the wilderness may not be what we hope for nor expect. Only faith can sustain us when the cup is bitter and the meal disheartening. We may choose starvation and thirst rather than eat and drink of trouble and sacrifice.

Even Jesus asked that the cup be taken from Him. Yet He drank from it and handed it over to us.

Even as Jesus walked to Golgotha, breaking under the burden and about to be shattered, He is prepared to hand His body over to us.

He has eaten at this same table so we are no longer alone in the bitter wilderness.

And so we, sharing our hunger, our thirst, our fear, our sorrow and our pain, can say, “We have a great God.”

northcascades

An Ancient Companion

287530_534324987764_148300158_30899579_7339161_o

The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion.   To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates.
~John Updike from “The Cold”

We’ve had a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies once the frozen fog abates.  There has been no northeaster to send the windchill plummeting.  Everything shimmers with diamonds of frosty glitter all day long.  It is the kind of cold this pacific northwest native can actually enjoy.  It is not the cold of the midwest plains, or the Alaskan frontier.  This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats.  It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.

We are not always so lucky as this.  The cold that sometimes descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.

A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided.  If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.   It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are.  At least we can generate heat, even if we can’t lighten up.