The winter begins to wear on me. Two days ago I headed out to the market, mid-afternoon, after a long session of writing. The cold air stung, sharp and clean, on my cheeks; I looked around, eager and naive, like a bird leaving her nest for the first time. At the corner I turned north—and was hit by a wall of wind so strong as to give the lie to its invisibility. I pulled the collar of my coat higher, wrapped my scarf more tightly, settled the wool hat lower on my forehead, and leaned into the wind. At the end of the block I almost turned back, wanting more layers, a heavier scarf for my face, but instead walked faster, even more determinedly; I’d be there soon and could go inside. The colors of the houses and parked cars were muted by the blowing snow, fine and light, picked up in swirling gusts from where it lay on the street and car-tops. In the alleys the road had been scoured clean and shone icily; here and there a bent figure walked quickly between destinations, the furry hood of a parka in the place of a face, hands thrust into pockets, the gait agile and knowing.
Today J. did the marketing instead. He returned faster than I’d expected: “I was going to take a longer walk,” he said, “but it was just so cold.” Before leaving he’d asked me what I wanted. “I don’t know—spring things,” I said, plaintively. “Berries. And something green.” He came back with strawberries, baby spinach, asparagus, little carrots and a package of lemony madeleines: pale yellow delicate shell-shapes of flour, sugar, butter.
This evening both the internet and the phones went down, right before dinner. We ate our meal, and then sat in front of the fireplace eating bowls of split madeleines with a sauce of raspberries and strawberries and a bit of yogurt, and then I lingered there through a second cup of tea while blue flames played around the end of the last log, balanced on the remains of the previous two.
Underneath, in the chamber formed by the burned-down logs and roofed by the newer one, the embers glowed and flickered in shades of orange and gold. I stared, unthinking, until I realized I had been seeing the scene as a diorama: a cave lit dramatically from within, while a grey ash, stone-like, formed on the cooler exterior. In my reverie, I had been imagining tiny people moving inside, hidden from view, holding a war council, perhaps, or preparing a feast, reminiscent of some overproduced scene in a science fiction saga. I leaned over, and pushed a straw from the hearth-broom into the heart of the chamber, like an anteater-tongue probing hot sand. The dry straw curled, split, and burst into flames—and the entire tableau collapsed with a loud crash.
Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday. At the cathedral, the Dean announced that if anyone wished to begin Lent by being shriven, they were welcome to present themselves sometime on Tuesday, and one of the priests would be glad to hear their confession. And for those who wished to celebrate in the fashion of Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday—all were invited to a supper of pancakes and sausages and maple syrup at the parish hall in the evening. We plan to be there.
And then it will be Ash Wednesday and the beginning of another Lent. Forty days will bring us to the middle of April, when, most likely, spring will arrive in step this year with Easter. Somehow, this last slog through the fitful moodiness of late winter seems easier as I think about that, and also reminds me why I live in a place with such definitive seasons—and how deeply their rhythms are ingrained in my spirit. Life itself recapitulates the pattern: ashes fall to ashes, dust to dust; the fire collapses, hiding the embers waiting to burst into life again at the invisible touch of a breath.