I was surprised to find the magazine “Men’s Journal” in my mail today. I checked the label. Maybe my husband had developed a heretofore-unknown-to-me interest in articles like “How to Trim a Beard” or “The Truth About Herbal Supplements.”
But no, the carrier had delivered it by mistake. It was meant to go to a gentleman living a block away. And how disappointed he would be if he had no magazine to read on these frozen January nights, which is what would happen if I just chucked it in the recycling bin.
So I pulled on the jacket, the boots, the mittens, the hat with faux-fur-lined ear flaps, and the infinity scarf (for the infinity winter), dodged the cats hovering around the door, and ventured out into what Minnesotans fondly refer to as “the tundra.”
Thirteen degrees. (That is -10.5556 degrees to the rest of the world.) Bright sun lancing off the fresh fall of snow. Cold, cold wind from the north, the direction in which I was walking. A brisk and beautiful day, actually, with all the diamond brilliance of deep winter above and below, if you could just raise your face from out your scarf for a moment to see it.
On the way home, I saw a Pomeranian wearing a white-and-red doggie coat dash out into the intersection, all the while barking at the wheels of a giant blue dump truck that was trying to make a turn. The little dog so small, brave and foolish. He came to no harm. The driver kept his foot on the brake until the dog’s person came puffing up and nabbed him. Pom scolded and held tightly in his person’s arms, smile on my face then and even now.
It takes a while to feel warm again after going out. I switched on the heating pad to bring my toes up to room temperature as I sat writing. But after a while, I felt the westering sun reach through the window to cup my elbow, then stroke its warm golden fingers along my arm, like the hand of a friend.
January’s sun is low in the sky. Any cloud not directly overhead looks damson-hued, colored like sunset all day long.
The other night, snow was falling as I drove home through the park, whirling down from the misting gray clouds like fairy handkerchiefs. And the song went: White snow, black branches, gray sky. The elemental story, the original lullaby, the essential shapes of the winter, all singing cold, sleeping songs like water rippling, fire burning. Did you know that cold burns like fire?
Tonight, the full moon shines in the east, exquisitely wreathed by gauzy cloud, softest pearl edged with opal. That aurora whispers of hypnotic snowfalls soon-to-come in a language the night birds seem to hear. I see them—first, a mass of black crows, then mallards silhouetted against the murk, winging southeast along the corridor of the Mississippi River, flying with the prevailing winds.
So you must persist
in asking where my heart goes
all the long, cold night.
Like following trails left by birds
who vanished with yesterday’s sky.
—Japanese poet Kōhō Kennichi,
translated by Sam Hamill