The Cruelest Month

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It has been a long, cold, depressing winter with no real end in sight. As I write this, a blizzard is burying Minnesota in snow while here in Chicagoland, we have been subjected to yet another gray, rainy and miserable day.

All this winter has caused a certain lethargy in me. My energy level is low, and the ideas that usually teem in my brain have slowed to a trickle. I realized today that the bad weather has kept me inside too much. Not being able to take my walks outside has seriously hampered my ability to think and dream.

It is known that physical activity enhances mental performance. So a brisk walk in nature has always been my prescription for writer’s block. Lately, I just feel physically and mentally lazy. It’s hard to get motivated when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind and rain pelt the windows. So I’ve been spending my free time doing crossword puzzles and watching TV, eating carbs and getting sleepy. I feel like a bear in its den surfacing briefly, only to find that it’s not time to come out of hibernation yet.

The daffodils in my front yard have just started to send green stems shooting up from the soil. They look too petrified to open and bloom. There are no leaves – or even buds – on the trees outside my window. I long for inspiration, but all I feel is a dreary heaviness of mind and body.

By now we Midwesterners should be able to expect some light and warmth, some signs of growth in our environment. Instead, April so far has been one very unfunny Fool’s joke.

 

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Snow Surprised

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IMG_0524.JPGA rare pre-Thanksgiving snow is falling outside my kitchen window as I write. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I welcome the winter white, it was lovely to wake up and view our trees and lawn covered with snow.

Last night my teenage daughter came home happy and glistening. She and her friends had gone outside in the snow that had just started falling and found it to be wet and packable, perfect for snowball fights and snowman building. Indeed, this morning as I drove slowly through our little town, I saw numerous children, puffy like the Michelin man in their snow pants and coats, happily making snowmen or dragging sleds to the local hill. Parents of toddlers pulled them in little seated sleds along the slick sidewalks.

A snowy day is perfect for an extra cup of coffee, a warm throw blanket, and a good book or a college football game on TV. Even a walk outside is not so bad since the temperatures haven’t taken a precipitous dive yet. An early season snow has trouble sticking on the warm sidewalks and driveways. Sure, there will be some snow cleanup later. But for now, the world outside reminds me that winter is coming, and that means holidays and family and mulling spices scenting our household.

By Thanksgiving the snow will have melted. This snow is just a warmup (or a coldup?) for the months ahead. So welcome, snow. It’s kind of nice seeing you again.

 

Snow Day

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This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland. It was our first big snowstorm of the winter, and I was ready. The kitchen was stocked and the snow blowers filled with gas.

It was also a Sunday, a day of quiet and rest for many. This felt like a minor miracle to me, and as I sipped my coffee, I felt grateful for the world of white outside my window.

Those who know me well know that I am not fond of winter or snow. So I’m not sure why I felt such a sense of peace about the near foot of snow it was predicted we will get by the end of the storm.

With Hubby out of town and Teenage Son fast asleep, I decided to go out and see if I could find the Sunday newspaper buried at the bottom of the driveway. I did not want The Abominable Snow Machine, our massive snow thrower, to tear it up and malfunction in the process.

So I trudged down and began to gently shovel piles of the light, fluffy stuff at the bottom of the driveway. It was so quiet and still, and the air felt crisp but not frigid. I actually began to be thankful for the blanket of snow.

Of course, scientists would tell us that snow is very important for the ecosystem, both globally and locally. For instance, farmers rely on melting snow for irrigation in their fields.

Scientific reality aside, I started to get into the rhythm of my shoveling and was motivated to do more. So I went into the garage and revved up Abominable so that I could clear the whole driveway. This machine is very impressive. It has a dual-blade system so that it can cut through very deep and heavy snow. It’s a workout for me to push, however, and I did get hot and sweaty by the time I was done.

Being a perfectionist, I wanted to clean up after Abominable, so I started shoveling the driveway. To my surprise, there was already a new half inch of snow on it. As I worked, I suddenly heard a sweet voice call, “Hi!” The voice echoed through the air, and I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. “Behind you,” called the voice of the young girl who lives next door. She was standing at her open bedroom window, looking out with glee at the winter wonderland.

Finally finished cleaning the driveway and making a path up to our front door, I rewarded myself with a warm shower and a fresh cup of coffee. Our satellite may be out (no doubt covered with snow), and the snow keeps falling, but I feel truly blessed and happy, and can’t help thinking about the words of Psalm 118 above.

By the way, I never did find that Sunday paper. I hope the paper carrier is home safe and sound and not stuck in the snow somewhere. In any event, I plan to enjoy this quiet snow day in my warm and quiet home.

Snow Job

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I was visiting family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this past weekend when I learned that the first major snowstorm of the season was headed for the Twin Cities. In Minneapolis, there are two seasons: snow and no snow. So this news came as a warning to Minnesotans that they should bid a fond farewell to their grass and ground cover until next spring.

The snowstorm news also felt apropos as I sat in a movie theater watching Force Majeure, a movie set in the French Alps that features a life-changing avalanche. But Force Majeure is no traditional action thriller. A winner at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Force Majeure is instead a devastating closeup of a damaged marriage.

In the movie, rather than burying people, the avalanche serves to unearth the discontents of a wealthy Swedish family trying to enjoy a holiday together. It brings up issues of gender roles, freedom and responsibility, and moral values. After the incident, the couple grapples with their shame, disappointment, and fear for the emotional safety of their children.

The term “force majeure” is a legal concept whereby the obligations of both parties to a contract are nullified by, among other things, “acts of God.” In the film, one party temporarily abnegates responsibility in the event of the avalanche.

The snow in Force Majeure is almost another character. The forbidding walls of white loom over the little ski village where the family is staying. Rather than creating a feel of wonder, the Alps possess a smothering claustrophobia that deepens the viewer’s discomfort and even dread.

I have seen reviews of Force Majeure that refer to it as a comedy. True, there are some very funny moments. But the main thrust of the film is dark and serious. I recalled the early years in my own marriage, when the bloom was off the rose and we grappled with our real limitations as partners, parents, and people.

Here in Chicago we are dodging this first big snowstorm of the impending winter. Still, in the oft-quoted line from Game of Thrones, it is all too clear that “winter is coming.”

Since the weather outside is turning frightful, I highly recommend curling up inside and watching a good movie like Force Majeure.