If you live in the Northern hemisphere, especially above the 47th parallel, winter has settled in to stay for a while. Whether you hibernate, prefer denial, or embrace the season may depend on how cold it gets in your neck of the woods…
- Hibernate? You are a heat-seeker in all seasons, especially now, piling up the logs or blankets while dreaming of tropical beaches, staying indoors while waiting for winter to pass. Or you have already headed south so you can ignore winter more effectively.
- Live in denial? You walk (or run) hatless through the freezing air, relying on your car to get from one door to the next, and don’t even own a warm winter jacket or toque.
- Embrace the season? You are outdoors at every opportunity, enjoying the intensity of the winter sun and impossibly clear blue skies. You are probably a skier or skater or snowmobiler or snowboarder — or all of the above — and live for that squeaky sound the snow makes under your boots and the rush of cold air as you speed downhill or skate under the stars.
As for me, I’m all three (although my skiing and skating skills are nothing to brag about). And I will admit it: in some profound part of my spirit, I do love winter. I love the sudden joy of finding Orion watching from high overhead on dark bitter mornings. I love the sound of nothing made by falling snow on a windless night. I love how the fresh snow transforms my dull leafless city, sculpting every surface in sparkling white. I love the fact that I can witness the most wonderfully golden sunrises without having to wake at 5 am. I love that deliciously crispy ’ air which puts red in my cheeks and a sparkle in my eyes.
Now, if only I could remember all this when I wake up in mid-February in the middle of a deep freeze…!
Photo taken on Jan 10, 2015
Sometimes when I’m on the verge of waking, I linger on the edge of sleep, reluctant to relinquish that moment of possibility between dreaming and consciousness. In this moment, I feel anticipation and hope, I sense that something good might happen when the day begins. The closest word I can find to describe it is “madrugada”, a Spanish word meaning dawn or daybreak, or more literally, the hour before sunrise.
On many mornings, when I open my eyes and wake up, this moment vanishes; routine and responsibility rush in, and I push my dreams aside. But if I wake up early, in that hour (or two) before sunrise, I don’t have to rush into the day. I can sit for a moment and think about my day, my dreams, my desires, my disappointments. In the quiet of this madrugada, I can listen to God and be open to my heart. And I find that if I start the morning with stillness, I am better organized, better prepared, and better balanced as I head into my day.
As I look toward the future (now that I’ve passed the long-anticipated 50th birthday milestone), I realize it is this awareness of each day that is becoming most valuable to me. As much as I enjoy getting “stuff”, acquisition is not my goal; neither is career climbing or travel or fame. None of this will ever give me any satisfaction unless I know who I am, unless I can be whole and at peace in that moment between dreams and waking.
Photo taken on November 4, 2009
We had a green Christmas. The sun shone, the roads were bare and the temperature was mild. Although I was hoping for snow, I admit that it couldn’t have been a better day.
Then, late on Boxing Day, a Nor’easter blew up along the coast and dumped a pile of snow and some rain through the Maritimes. As I write this, a blustery wind is shaking the trees and blowing last night’s fresh snow into sharp-peaked drifts. The landscape has completely changed. My shoulder and back muscles are still sore from shovelling snow yesterday, and I know there will more shovelling to do today.
Welcome back, winter.
Photo taken on December 27, 2010
On the street where I live there is a young mother who goes for walks, pushing her baby in a stroller while keeping a firm grip on the leash of her happy dog. There is a little dog who guards his little porch, and a bigger dog who loves to run, given half a chance. Sometimes I see a Siamese cat slip under the fence to explore the back field, following the tracks of mice and deer and other cats who wander there. There is a young man who has a truck parked in his backyard just for parts, and a family who, I am told, keeps a few chickens in their basement so they can have fresh eggs. There is an old man who keeps his yard as neat as a pin, and an old lady who walks to church every day, her tall hair carefully wrapped in black lace. I think I will go for a walk down the street today, and say hello to my neighbours.
Photo taken on December 7, 2010
On the weekend, I drove to Moncton and took in three workshops at Foto Expo, getting the chance to work with and learn from photographers including Maurice Henri, Daryl Benson, Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Crysanthou. I met an interesting crowd of photographers, ranging from just-got-a-new-camera to been-shooting-all-my-life, and had some great conversations. And I spent the best part of two days thinking, breathing and doing photography. I loved it.
Then I came back to reality. It was snowing early yesterday morning. I still don’t have a job, but I there’s one that I’m applying for, and I need to spend time crafting the cover letter. The housing insulation project is coming to a point of big investment, along with big decisions about how, and how much, to do, and the pressure is rising to get it done soon. I have to think about money, and the bathroom that needs cleaning, etc etc and at the same time I’m trying to hold onto my dreams about doing a November project, taking time each day for a series of photos looking for beauty (or at least compositional interest) in the bleak November landscape. But right now it feels like I am being selfish to talk about taking photographs while reality waits impatiently, ready to shred my dreams and scatter them to the winds.
Photo taken on October 31, 2010
Have you ever noticed how endings are also beginnings? In the Sound of Music, Maria says, “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” “When a door closes, a window opens” is a Dutch proverb. And Alexander Graham Bell is quoted as saying, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
As A.G. Bell says, sometimes we’re so obsessed with the ending we hardly notice the beginning. So many of us sigh over the end of summer that we scarcely notice the kids excited about the return of fall and the school year. Barely six months later, we’re eagerly pointing out the signs of spring’s beginning without giving a thought to the end of winter. Births are easy to celebrate, deaths are hard, but I think it’s important to acknowledge both; they will be the landmarks that you see when you look back on your life. Endings and beginnings are linked together, like moonsets and sunrises.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
– T.S. Eliot from Little Gidding (No. 4 of Four Quartets)
Photo taken on October 24, 2010
I grew up in Millidgeville, a suburb on the north edge of Saint John where it meets the Kennebecasis River. In the winter, we skated on the river, dodging snow drifts and cracks as we traced a path across the smooth ice. In the summertime, we swam at the beach a little way up the road. We had a good view of the river from our house, and I loved to watch the clouds, the sunsets, the early morning light change and glow as it hit the water.
I was in my old neighbourhood the other morning just before dawn, and couldn’t resist stopping for a moment to watch the river. A cold breeze was blowing from the west as I drove to the end of a nearby road. As I walked toward the shoreline, watching the rising sun redden the hills across the river, I found a small wetland next to a new housing development. I heard a hoarse call and watched a kingfisher fly swiftly across the water’s surface. As if on cue, two mallard ducks emerged from their nest in the tall grasses, wending their way toward the river. The sun rose, and the wind blew more strongly. My hands were frozen. Feeling cold, but awake, I headed home.
Taken on October 18, 2010