Although my children rejoice at the sight of the first snow accumulation of the year, for me there is something haunting and unsettling about it. In addition to the inevitable and unavoidable conclusion that winter has arrived, there is an accompanying feeling of dread. This foreboding is in two parts: macro and micro.
The external, more global angst focuses on the season itself: the cold, the ice, the risk of accidents both from careening vehicles and blistering chimney fires. It is easy for me to look at “nature” and conclude that spring will never return, that we have entered an interminable era of perennial death.
The internal, more existential anxiety hones in on the experience of self: in the house, unable to leave, running out of wood, running out of food, the trees groaning under the weight of their collected snow and threatening to fall on my house, trapped among my familiar and ever-increasing contemptuous companions.
Both perspectives lack clear logic, though each has enough of a thread of truth to contribute to the fear that goes hand in hand with this annual marker of seasonal change.
In my forty-five winters, I have always lived in places where there was a first snowfall of the season. In those four and a half decades, I have never once been victimized by winter, yet there is my dismay-driven disquietude that has slipped in under the door and settled in for the duration.
My feelings are more intense and urgent this winter than they have been in previous years. I imagine that this is on account of the change in my yoga practice, the books on Buddhism I’ve been reading, the great lengths of time I spend in contemplative meditation, and the waiting to hear back from prospective literary agents.
My daily exercise of body, spirit, mind, and patience does not allow for much in the way of apathy. How I occupy my time constricts my opportunities for whimsy. My current pursuits preclude all forms of leisure. And while I may appear relaxed and carefree, internally there is friction and, at times, turmoil.
With everything being so serious and so overwhelmingly important, it’s hard to trust that there will be progress, enlightenment, insight, and reward, that the current state will evolve.
The first snowfall of this season has come to me at a time when the only cosmic conclusion one could draw of its timing is one of the universe’s endorsement of cold permanence, where there is no room for movement or a vigorous challenge to the way it is.
And so on the occasion of what would have been my father’s 71st birthday, I ready myself for what might end in a tragic car accident, a fatal inferno, or slow starvation and try to remind myself of John Steinbeck’s observation:
What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”