Winter Country

December 20, 2016
Like all our other seasons, Winter came a bit early this year.
Just between you and me, the South doesn’t handle Winter all that well. This is the sun-belt, where central air and sunglasses are more than accessories. Our winters often hold off until January and some years they don’t show up at all. Instead of a frozen wasteland, we get a dormant rainy outdoors explored only by aficionados of the hunt.  The rest of us curl up with a book and a drink until it’s time to replant the garden.
But not this year.  This year we’re going to get winter and it’s going to be downright cold.

A sure sign of winter – smoke
coming from the fireplace
The South becomes a different place in winter; more like the spot they wrote about decades ago. Although most Southerners are not tied to the land like they were in previous centuries, weather becomes an important factor to us during these three months of the year.  Our houses are not heated the way New England homes are and bitter cold can sometimes seep indoors.  Bereft of their gardens, our houses seem to pull in on themselves these days, like a freezing man huddles inside his parka. The surrounding verdant landscape reverts to a more somber palette.
Still, I love the look of winter in the South with its subdued shades of brown, grey and green.   I cannot look at our winter landscape without thinking of Kenneth Grahame‘s Wind in the Willows.

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him, and he thought that he had never seen so far and so intimately into the insides of things as on that winter day when Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. Copses, dells, quarries and all hidden places, which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves and their secrets pathetically, and seemed to ask him to overlook their shabby poverty for a while, till they could riot in rich masquerade as before, and trick and entice him with the old deceptions. It was pitiful in a way, and yet cheering– even exhilarating. He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.” 

Stripped of the usual covering of kudzu and leaves, here is our essential country: strong, simple and not totally without colour.   Every December, our neighbour’s unpruned shrub decks itself in scarlet berries as if sprouted just for the holiday.  The pine trees grow like weeds from the rusty clay earth.  Even the layers of sedimentary rock expose their striated beauty. This is our home, without artifice.  The earth we cling to is strong.
Yes, Spring will return in just a few months with its riot of flowers and birdsong.  I’ll be there to welcome it.  But in the meantime, let me cherish winter, with its long, dark nights and silent, peace-filled earth.  This season has its beauty as well.

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