Sunday, January 15, 2006


I love to see, when leaves
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and
Save what is pure and will survive.

—Roy Campbell

There is a pomposity to summertime that winter forbids. Summer permits the Beach Boys, squealing tires, hot sliding boards, and rolled-up sleeves. Winter brings cares, caution and the clutching of wraps to the breast.

Winter humbles us, and that’s what I like about it. It does to our character what it does to trees. When ferocious, winter strips bark and stops sap. When cruelly overstaying its welcome, it makes human beings groan and wish for Elsewhere.

Winter is a mirror of the real world; it draws from men the ingenuity to surmount hardship. When the world is cold, a man builds a fire. When the world is tempestuous, a man builds a roof. When the world is so terrible that a man’s skin begins to die, he finally seeks God.

God lives on both sides of a storm window. He inhabits both the crystalline snowflake and the embers of a cozy, Christmas fire. He inhabits the ice dagger snapping from the eaves and the robe belt clinched tight against the absence of heat.

Winter is contrast between sides of a storm window. The storm is without, peace within. The cold is without, warmth within. The wind is without, within are gentle heat-puffs rising from ducts or stovetops. This contrast is as delicious as man and woman, work and rest, laughter and tear.

Here is one way to enjoy it:

The outside of your down sleeping bag should be forest green, the inside silver. Sleep naked inside the bag on cold, winter nights. The bag should be of goose down so that the down traps the air, warms it, and keeps your skin the temperature of palm trees while the outside world quivers and quakes.

Yesterday you wore heavy bedclothes, but today you test comfort against nothing but the feathers of geese. The silver lining is a cirrus cloud that the goose flies through, and the long zipper is the Deity’s man-made wedge against a much crueler world.

Upon waking, you need only a reclining chair and a book. Do not move except at the behest of gravity; this must include the sinking of your heels into the foot part of the chair. Let the book capture you to the point that the world outside the storm window ceases to exist. At this juncture, cars, if they come, will not come, and people, if they chatter, will say no words.

There is a cup of coffee near you, billowing smoke. The smoke, if you watch it, twirls in the cup as it exits, then disappears inside a lamp shade. If you read a fine sentence, savor the words with a small mouthful of the coffee. When the words have exhausted their usefulness (and not until then), let the coffee slide down your throat and pay attention to what happens when it arrives at your stomach.

Winter is a slender thing. I recommend befriending it. Tomorrow it disappears and someone plugs in the Beach Boys. Tomorrow it disappears, and men build no fires, nor do they contemplate roofs, nor do they seek God. This is because, in the green and the blue and the rose petals of summer, God seems everywhere. This, in turn, is because, in the green and the blue and the rose petals of summer, contrasts disappear.

God dwells most heartily in the snowflake, the ember, the icicle, and the robe. These are the best things, the hard and soft things, the things that draw purpose from the breast, around which, today, we wrap our coats.

© 2006 by Martin Zender