March is my least favorite month of the year. Winter is winding down, but rarely leaves quietly. It’s often cold, but also wet and windy—the worst weather conditions—and even as it warms, the white snow turns dingy gray and black, uncovering a winter’s worth of dirt and debris:
Fat Tuesday Why should the robin be the harbinger of Spring? Why watch for flowers? The tulip and the thrush borrow beauty from the sun; tug their strength up from the dark earth. Stronger still, and darker, is the crow. Songbirds ride the North Wind south; flowers hang their heads and retreat beneath the snow. The crow remains. Feathers ruffed, dark eye glaring sidelong, he stoops; picks bits of hide and hair from the cold pavement. A lean meal this Christmas, but Easter comes, and Nature’s bounty blooming black from the snow. A stiffened ear; the rack and ripe entrails— the crow consumes all, makes ready the house for the Master’s arrival.
He waits, black as the cloth, preaching his monosyllable, fasting.
As a general rule, I don’t shovel after March 1.* Invariably we get snow in March (and even April), which means that while our neighbors’ driveways still have nice straight edges and clear entry points, ours is a lumpy and treacherous mix of snow, slush, and refreeze.
When the blustery weather finally breaks (temporarily, of course), we see our first serious warm-up and venture out for a walk around the neighborhood. The curbs and gutters run with miniature rivers and rapids; last autumn’s soggy leaves and twigs form dams creating shallow pools for passing cars to splash through, and the storm sewers roar and rumble. The plowed snow along the road melts from the bottom up, creating shelves of ice that crunch and give way beneath our boots. With no talls weeds to hide it, litter appears — the soggy remains of last fall’s lunch someone tossed out the car window before the first snow. And then, after a couple days and maybe a good, hard rain, the mud forms.
This post appeared as a column in the January 16 bulletin for St. Michael Catholic Church. It was written during the cold snap the week before.
As I write this morning, it’s -24 outdoors. That people work outdoors in this weather—expanding our church facilities, for example—is amazing. That people sleep and starve outdoors in this weather while I sit comfortably typing away is tragic and humbling.
The daily readings for the week after Epiphany focus on the love of God, in concept (Saint John’s first letter, explaining that God is love, and all that implies) and in deed (examples of Jesus’ teaching, feeding, healing, and other miracles from Saints Mark and Luke.
The gospel for January 5 was Mark’s story of the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water and calming the sea. Once Jesus joins His disciples in the boat, Mark ends with this:
They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.
My first thought reading this was, “What’s not to understand? How could Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000-plus people harden the hearts of His followers?”
I dropped Trevor at Holy Spirit yesterday morning and took the scenic route home, past Pelican Lake. The sun was a blaze of yellow-gold in an ice blue sky, the snow was a hard gleam of white over the fields, and the shadows cast by bough, branch or blade cut dark blue gashes on the ground. The dawn was a study in brightness and contrast—the colors washed out or deepened until the world almost appeared black and white, the lines sharpened, the darkness more stark in the light…
…until a new perspective set the wild lands ablaze. I followed a sweeping curve, and the sunrise ignited the landscape. Woods and weeds, willows and reeds, glowed with a golden halo of hoarfrost—what looked as bitter and biting as last week’s election now softened and warmed in the golden light.
Isn’t it strange what perspective can do? Hard lines and shadows dissolve in the divine light, beauty blazes up, and with it goodness and truth. The night ends, the day breaks, the winter is long but finite; the Lord still pours out His life and love, still looks upon all the work of His hands and, smiling, says, Behold, it is very good.
We dare not hold that gaze too long, that look of love in His eyes. We feel ourselves a waving weed in a windblown winter field, exposed, insignificant, starved for His attention. Do we not see that, bathed in His light, each of us is beautiful, unique and necessary? We are ablaze with divine life, and the world is ours to warm.
Three hundred and sixty-two days ago, my eldest daughter and I were in a car accident. She had her permit and was merging onto the freeway the first time. It was the very definition of an accident—it was no one’s fault—but it totaled our old minivan and ruined Emma for driving until the pavement warmed up and dried off in spring.
Three hundred sixty-two days ago, I realized how illusory my sense of control is and exactly how much I love my children.
I worried how Emma would respond to the snow this winter. Today the question was answered definitively: We have another licensed driver in family. Congratulations, Rosebud. You deserve it—and I know you’ll be careful out there. You know better than most.
Blogger’s Note: Most of this post was meant to be the beginning of the annual Thorp family Christmas letter. At this point, we plan to send you all Valentines…
The morning is cold, black, and bitter, like the dregs of yesterday’s coffee left in the car overnight. The thin crescent moon seems a galaxy away; the stars, more ice than fire; the jagged air catches in your throat, and the wind seems to strip life, layer by layer, from your shrunken, shivered form.
It is easy, on mornings like this, to justify staying abed, comfortable and warm beside your lover; to shut off the alarm, burrow into blankets and dreams, and await the sun. On mornings like this it’s hard—and perhaps undesirable—to imagine those who live outdoors in this weather, for whom the blue ache of cold is chiefly a sign they have not died in the night. That which you can feel is not yet frozen.
These are not pleasant thoughts on an early winter morning, when you’d rather be asleep, but they are also nothing a hot shower and coffee won’t cure.