Sunday, February 11, 2007

Winter's Vocabulary

The gods of winter have talking points. Theirs is a vocabulary designed to make us believe this truly is a magical time of year. If they just make us hear the right words enough, we will be convinced.

You know the deal: words like glisten, sparkle, crunch, fluffy . . .. Trees are “frosted” with snow, not drooping under big globs which threaten to turn to ice and break every power line in the vicinity. It is ponds that are frozen, never batteries. And small children, usually in scarlet sweaters, glide over them, their joyful voices ringing out in the still, crisp winter air. When Jack Frost nipping at your nose becomes frostbite attacking every inch of exposed flesh, you know you have passed from Mel Torme to Ernest Shackleton.

Eventually even the deities get tired of this corny winter wonderland and bring their shenanigans inside. They have their inside voices too. Fires crackle and the glowing flame always dances, usually on burnished copper. Curtains “banish” winter’s gloom and the words hearty, fragrant and flavorful attach themselves to the content of pots on the stove. Cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg are abundant. Boredom, chilblains and drafts are not in the nostalgic vocabulary of winter.

It takes a woman poet to capture the stark reality of winter:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Christina Rossetti hit the nail on the head. To heck with greasy Joan and Dick the shepherd and that silly owl. I’m going to re-read Men of Salt and remember nostalgically those days when I was complaining of the heat.

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