Last night I lay in my bed and listened to 40 mph winds ripping through the forests I love so much. Snow and ice everywhere, with wind chills bringing temperatures down to -30 F (almost -35 C).
The kirtan chanter Krishna Das, staying with us overnight, didn’t help matters much relating how a big oak had fallen some time ago onto his bedroom. It cut through the roof like butter, he said. That’s Rockland County, he added as comfort, where the ground is rocky and the roots grow into the ground sideways, causing the trees to come down in a storm. Here you have better soil, the roots go deep.
But I lay in bed open-eyed, listening to the activity overhead. Animals scampered inside the roof and heavy tree branches—or something—fell on top after being whipped by the winds.
When I first moved to the country in 1994 (the Woodstock area in New York State) I laughed at how all everyone talked about was the weather. But that’s what I now talk about, too. When I talk to my mother in Israel I go on for a long time about the cold, the heat, the moon, whether things are wet or slippery, what to do about dry, blistery feet, and she worries about whether I dress warmly enough.
Weather is master here. In the city you feel like humans own the planet, but in the country you know better. You watch snow storms shut down your roads and power, eliminating your heat, water, and refrigeration in one blow. You watch frigid temperatures close down schools and meditation halls, see how an inch of ice will postpone and even cancel carefully-planned trips. Witness farmers struggle to clear paths to the barns and wonder how they get their machinery to work without leaving the skin of their hands attached to the sharp, frozen metal (I have a hard time taking hands out of gloves just to fill the birdfeeders).
You wonder about your pipes and well underground, and you wonder about the animals. First thing in the morning I look out the window: Where are the birds? I remember asking the writer and ornithologist Peter Matthiessen one day how birds survive our New England winters, and he said not to worry, they have lots of down. Then it was -6. Now we talk of -30.
Maybe it’s silly when you can hear the blessed cranking up of the furnace in the basement and even your cars have a garage for shelter. We don’t have domestic animals to feed. I took Stanley for almost an hour’s energetic walk yesterday, but his tail wagged when we turned to go back down the driveway; he was ready to come home. Today we’re not going anywhere. Last night and today, all of us in the house felt like playthings of the gods of winter.
On the day of the snowstorm I stupidly let some 10-12 inches of snow fall before remembering to shovel. A far better idea to do it in two batches rather than all at once, even if it was light and fluffy. I then went behind the house to check on the bird feeders, the heated water, and the satellite dish, and when I turned around I saw the candle in the window of the office illuminating the imprints the snowflakes make on the windows. It seemed to blaze light and consolation.