Settling In with a Winter Book

December 29, 2015

Winter is the Season with the strongest ties to Home and Hearth.  Spring and Autumn may pull us to work in our yards and Summer is for Adventure and Travel but Winter, with its long nights and bleak weather, is the time when people sub-consciously pull closer to the places that comfort and protect them and settle in for the Season.  While the winds blast across the open ground and temperatures plummet, we can feel safe as long as we have dry, warm rooms, comfortable seats and a selection of Winter Books to re-read. If there are Summer Authors (and I think there are) that invite the heart toward roaming, there are also the writers that celebrate hearth and home and these are a joy to re-read.  While the Winter stories are rarely in high demand (Winter tales have pages you want to mull over, not rip through) their appeal is eternal and simple.  Winter Stories insist on a mindful awareness of the joys and trials of everyday life.  They celebrate what is real.

New England is one of those places that seems to have a copyright on Winter and Gladys Taber is still one of New England’s best-loved “home-and hearth” Winter Writers.  Robert Frost could scribble out poems about people who underpin their friendships with fences and allow the hired man home to die. That’s fine for Robert Frost, but it isn’t much comfort during Winter.  Instead, readers turned to the woman who fell in love with a 15th century farmhouse named Stillmeadow and made her life there with kids, cats, dogs and twin devotions to the written word and the natural world.  She supported herself by writing about domestic life and no one has written more skillfully or with more mindfulness about the Winter.

“We have an appointment with winter and we are ready. The wood is stacked with seasoned applewood and maple, the snow shovel leans at the back door, the shelves are jammed with supplies. When the first innocent flakes drift down, we put out more soot and fill the bird feeders. When the snow begins to come in all directions at once and the wind takes on a peculiar lonely cry, we pile more wood on the fire and hang the old iron soup kettle over it, browning the pot roast in diced salt pork and onion. As the blizzard increases, the old house seems to steady herself like a ship against a gale wind. . . Snow piles up against the windowpanes, sifts under the ancient sills, makes heaps of powdered pearl on the ancient oak floors. But the house is snug in the twilight of the snow and we sit by the fire and toast our toes feeling there is much to be said for winter after all.” 

Ms. Taber may have been my mother’s favorite writer; I’m sure she’s the only one Mother trusted enough to write to and Ms. Taber’s handwritten reply was one of Mama’s treasured possessions.  It was enough for me to watch Mama’s reaction as she pored over one Ms. Taber’s volumes.  She would sit quietly, with one hand on the edge of the pages and a small smile would appear on her face.  Pages were turned with deliberation.  After spending twenty minutes with Ms.Taber and Stillmeadow, Mama would return to our world, a happier, more serene person.

As for me, I followed a southern star and my favorite hearth writer became Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, that Florida transplant and author of The Yearling and Cross Creek. Ms. Rawlings described the rough but wonderful life she found in the backwoods of Florida and how winter can be a wonderful thing in a place where it’s still seen as alien.

“For all our battles, winter at the Creek is the cozy time, when fat pine fires crackle on all the hearths. I take my dog for a walk up the road at sunset and the wind blows in our faces. I turn back to walk westward home as the red sun drops behind Orange Lake. The dusk comes quickly and we turn in at the gate and shut the house door behind us and drop down in front of the hearth fire in the living room. A fresh log of fatwood thrown on the slow-burning bed of oak coals catches and blazes and roars up the big chimney. The flames light the old white-walled room so that there is no need even of candles, though one or two over the bookshelves are always pleasant, for candlelight on books is one of the lovely things of this world. The ruby-red velvet sleepy hollow chair glows in the firelight. The dog groans for comfort and turns his belly to the heat and stretches out his paws in the ultimate luxury. Only a hunting dog or a cat can share man’s love of the open fire, and if I had a whole kennel full of dogs, on winter nights I should let them all come in to enjoy mine with me.”

In a number of weeks, we will venture out into Spring and run forward again, with our futures.  Take the time this season to be aware of your life and enjoy the comforts of home.  Settle in with a winter book.

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