February 2, 2018

Thoughts on Winter

Although Henry David Thoreau wrote little poetry, I find his essays and journal to be inspirational. He advised in his journal that we should “Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.”

I am a fan of winter walks and I especially like going out after a snowfall. The woods are whitewashed clean, and the snow muffles sounds. I like to follow the tracks of animals who have walked there before me that day.

Adam Gopnik's book Winter: Five Windows on the Season  is a meditation on the season via artists, poets, composers, writers, explorers, scientists, and thinkers, who have created our modern idea of winter. It goes to unlikely places, such as thinking about how snow science leads to existential questions of God and our place in the world.

Do I love the winter season? No, it is my least favorite season. (Autumn is my favorite.) I often say that i want to retire to a place without winter, or at least with a much milder winter than my New Jersey ones. But I suspect i would miss winter after a time.

The Brain Pickings blog had a post about Thoreau finding inner warmth in this cold season, but here is a section from his journal that isn't about going for a walk in the snowy woods.
The wind has gently murmured through the blinds, or puffed with feathery softness against the windows, and occasionally sighed like a summer zephyr lifting the leaves along, the livelong night. The meadow-mouse has slept in his snug gallery in the sod, the owl has sat in a hollow tree in the depth of the swamp, the rabbit, the squirrel, and the fox have all been housed. The watch-dog has lain quiet on the hearth, and the cattle have stood silent in their stalls. The earth itself has slept, as it were its first, not its last sleep, save when some street-sign or wood-house door has faintly creaked upon its hinge, cheering forlorn nature at her midnight work, — the only sound awake twixt Venus and Mars, — advertising us of a remote inward warmth, a divine cheer and fellowship, where gods are met together, but where it is very bleak for men to stand. But while the earth has slumbered, all the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned, showering her silvery grain over all the fields.
I identify with Thoreau's suggestion to walk in winter, but I also identify with curling up under a blanket inside and just observing the winter outside.

Here is Hank expanding on that winter walk:
There is nothing so sanative, so poetic, as a walk in the woods and fields even now, when I meet none abroad for pleasure. In the street and in society I am almost invariably cheap and dissipated, my life is unspeakably mean. No amount of gold or respectability would in the least redeem it, — dining with the Governor or a member of Congress!! But alone in distant woods or fields, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful.

Poets have had much to say about winter. Mr. Shakespeare wrote:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
   Thou art not so unkind
      As man’s ingratitude;
   Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
      Although thy breath be rude. 

I feel more akin to the "Winter Trees" of William Carlos Williams and like them in this cold month I am protecting my buds from the season and sleepily waiting for spring.

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.


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