Colorado Winter Writer's Life

A Mind of Winter

Cabin in deep snow
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs 
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; 

And have been cold a long time 
To behold the junipers shagged with ice, 
The spruces rough in the distant glitter  

Of the January sun; and not to think 
Of any misery in the sound of the wind
In the sound of a few leaves, 

Which is the sound of the land 
Full of the same wind  
That is blowing in the same bare place 

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

            —Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”
When I lived in my little cabin on Overland Mountain, Christmas was one of the darkest times of the year for so many reasons. The landscape outside had long since frozen over, raked with relentless high altitude wind between pockets of deep snow.  Inside was dim and dark–a combination of wood walls and the cabin’s placement (in the hollow, facing west) produced a formidable gloom.  Lighting was poor.  The owners had run lines across the exposed upward angle of the roof that ended in a single light bulb in each room suspended twelve or fifteen feet in the air.  Even during the day, my home was cave-like—the halo from the bulb overhead ineffectual and frankly, ugly, so that I relied on a single floor lamp and strings of white lights wrapped around the floor to ceiling tree stump along the south wall  to make my space merry in the darkest time of the year.  

Elvis and Me
Those were the days when it was just me and my dog, Elvis.  We spent so many holidays alone, armed with a fistful of movies (for me) and some delectable piece of meat to share.  I’ll admit that it was a lonesome time.  The absence of light; the short frigid days; the illusion that everyone else was reveling in some kind of warm holiday embrace packed a bitter walloping punch.  Most years, I just grinned and bore it.  Winter, I told myself, was the price of all those glorious summers on the mountain.

But, I was wrong.

I would learn what it means to be human at the hands of winter.  To see understand that there is a difference between being lonely and alone.

Aspens, Watercolor by Greg Marquez
Eventually, I came to understand the beauty of a barren landscape, to see the presence in absence.  In that future, one morning, out before dawn in the shivery early light of a February sky to get my paper, I watched a satellite break up, shedding parts like incandescent diamonds, across the star-filled horizon.  Snow lay sparkling beneath a full moon and the whole of sky and land shimmered silver and white.  I felt like I’d stepped into a painting.  It would be one of the most beautiful things I would ever see up there.  And its price would be the winters I collected, nine months of practicing being quiet, practicing stillness, on the top of Overland Mountain.  
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