It’s deepest, darkest winter. Technically it’s not the darkest winter; that went by a month ago and I am starting to notice the longer days and I'm grateful for that. But it’s deepest, darkest winter in that there are months of it behind us and months ahead. This past week we’ve been in a big freeze. And while winter walks usually feel good with cheeks glowing healthy pink and the hearty inhalation of great gobs of oxygen, recent blustery days have made it really unpleasant to be out.
I’m actively not complaining about the cold. In other parts of this province and most of my country it’s much colder than it is here. My Australian friends are enduring the worst heat wave they’ve ever had. In a cold snap you can make yourself more comfortable; in a heat wave there are only so many clothes you can take off. Cold is invigorating; heat is energy sapping.
In winter I miss the light more than anything. These days the subtle progress of daylight’s lingering over the street feels like a blessing; I want to reach out and grab it but the million colours of twilight elude me as exit the work day, moving westward ahead as I walk toward home. I miss the explosion of colours in the other seasons; winter's twilight is a jewel on the mostly monotone landscape.
The light has gone when I get home. I turn on the stove light, all my life a symbol of comfort. A symbol of the best thing about deepest, darkest winter – how good it feels to get home.
I don't think the light is ever as soft and beautiful as it is in September. If I ever contradict this statement, remind me I said this, and I'll say, "oh yeah, that's true – the light is never as lovely as it is in September."
It's just starting to rain, and I'm heading toward home when I catch a corner of that improbable glow. So I walk back the other way to see it fully. Because, funny thing is, it's evening, and I'm looking west. The sun is behind that building and a whole bunch of heavy clouds. Somehow that light found a way to burst through and bounce off another building and onto this one. Just in the moment I would see it.
I took these photos on my way home from work around 7:00 and the sun was just about to drop below the horizon. Do I mind losing an hour to daylight saving time this week? Hell no! Anyway, had this been a week ago, I would have missed the colour of that light.
I haven’t been writing much. If you’re one of my regular friends I’m sure you’ve noticed. Lists of beautiful things and posts of YouTube clips are not writing. I’ve learned to accept the dry periods and assume the “writerly collector” in me is needing this time to just collect experience. But it’s been bothering me – posting other people’s work and videos of other people are not going to bring you back, and I can’t stand the thought of losing any one of you.
Part of it is that I’ve been immersing myself in good books over my daily commute – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact my excuse for staying with this job which is an hour’s trip from my home has always been that those two hours of travel time every day are reading time. But the problem with immersing myself in books during this time is that I’m not paying attention to my favourite subject: that little space of world around me and the people in it.
By the end of winter I start feeling trapped by it – the darkness, the extended periods of painful temperatures, the ugliness. Let’s face it – snow in the city is only beautiful when it first falls. Then it becomes dirty mounds on sidewalks and on edges of parking lots and lining curbs everywhere. I’m all about the changing seasons, I feel lucky that I live in such a climate – but by late January, I’m finished with this damned season.
I’m sure it’s all related to a lack of sunlight. In fact I know it – after an hour’s lunchtime walk in bright sunlight today I felt heady, almost drunk. And the move to Daylight Time this past weekend has flipped some internal switch – I get to evening and find daylight and I’m noticeably happy. Lots of my friends are still complaining about that lost hour of sleep – I’m practically giddy for it; I’d gladly sacrifice two hours to have Daylight Time back again.
I wish I was one to write myself through a down or difficult period. The last few months of hunkering against the weather, coming out of the subway after work into the dark, the sequestering away from humanity and losing myself in other peoples’ stories – have all caused me to close off, and thus close off that well of stories.
During today's lunchtime walk I stopped and looked ahead at a length of sidewalk on which there was no snow, no ice, no slush, no puddles; just a clear sidewalk under a sunny sky. And when I stood there looking at it, I felt a sense of freedom I haven’t felt in more than a month, a welcome desire to get back outside of myself.
As I walked on, one of my favourite song verses ran through my head:
You say you'll give me a highway with no-one on it
Treasure, just to look upon it
All the riches in the night
U2, from Rattle and Hum, 1988
Let’s call that little simple little verse, with its image so humble and idea so rich, beautiful thing 25, and my theme for escaping the bonds of winter.
A few minutes ago, feeling unproductive and tired, as I usually do in late afternoon, I go into the kitchen at the office and peel an orange, which I hope will revive me somewhat, and appease the onset of hunger over my journey home.
As I’m sectioning the fruit, I look out at the snow-covered picnic table on the rooftop patio and find a most gorgeous indigo cast to it and filling the atmosphere as far as I can see. I can’t see that far – the sky is heavily overcast – the Toronto skyline, the thing I usually look at from this window, has disappeared.
Whatever light is getting through those clouds to the landscape around me is reflecting on the layer of snow and creating this rich, velvety blue. The houses and trees below are black shadows against it; and the glow from the streetlights has muted to soft incandescent spots, looking as they might in a cheesy scene on a Christmas card.
I stand there and eat my orange and watch that colour, because I know it will be gone in a few minutes.
I love to watch how the light changes, particularly in early mornings and at twilight time. To see the subtle change in the light and the movement of the colours it paints is, to me, bearing witness to the magic of this planet. Stopping to watch the light change causes me to slow down my thoughts, and just exist in tandem with the rhythm of the universe for a few moments. And that’s as reviving as anything.
beautiful things found in the process of a quiet, sun-filled weekend:
Last weekend, before we got socked with this dumping of snow, we had two days of luscious, gorgous vitamin D. When the days are sunny in February – everyone busts outside. On Saturday I shopped and walked in my neighbourhood, and then later in the afternoon I walked via the beach to have burgers and beers with a friend and the colours tagged along.
A tiny little mitten, no more than three inches high, hung in a tree in the hopes that the owner's grownup will find it:
Then, into the park and up towards Queen Street the light softens. I admire it on the giant humanoid tree legs and their snakey tree arms reaching out. Maybe they're reaching out toward the last bit of daylight. Or to spring. Compared to the yellows and oranges down at the beach, I think this muted light is mystical.