Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Color of Cold

It is the first week of April and yesterday morning was white and gray and blue and black and cold--definitively winter. Four inches of snow fell, the result of a typical winter storm that hooked up from the Rockies and pushed across the Midwest. Blizzard conditions to the west of us, heavier snow to the north and here, rain then hail then snow and more snow.


Spring has shown up here and there in tiny slices of warm sun, and then winter sweeps back in and takes hold. Nights below freezing. Ice on the front porch, ice on the driveway. I’ve just lived through my first Iowa winter and the memories of it are strong like the cold wind still blowing outside. It is the first week of April and I feel immersed in cold.

During these past dark months I found that the color of cold is blue, milky blue or brutally blue, depending on my mood and the temperature. On warmer days, where the morning temperature is 18 or 20 and the sun promises to come up and shine all day, on those days the world is bathed, just before dawn, in milk-white suffused with still more blue--blue shadows, blue glints across the snow, night-blue sky in the west fading to true-blue, sky blue sky in the east. On other days, colder days, when the sun doesn’t shine, the cold blue night fades to gray and the world remains black and white.

I collect the other colors of cold:

• Pearlescent ivory shimmering to lavender blue in the paint job of the old man’s Cadillac, parked outside Johnson’s Bakery in a snowstorm
• The kaleidoscope of diamonds burning across the snow in the sun
• Dull, bright, dirty, blue, orange, blinding white
• Dark blue shadows huddled in the footsteps of rabbits, squirrels, birds, me
• Brown dirty slush in the roads
• Sheets of yellow-white light blasting across snowfields at noon
• The blue and white premonition of falling white in the air just before snow starts falling
• A sunrise across a slate sky in the intense cold of dawn, navy blue then a bit brighter blue and then the colors come like cold neon flames, red and pink and orange
• The speckled breast of a hawk, ivory against the new snow
• Yellow morning moons
• One long, sunny, constant streak of lightning against white and ice

I spent my childhood waiting for bad weather. I loved rainy days and their coziness, the excitement of wind, the thrilling hope of snow. Quiet and solitary by nature, bad weather gave me an excuse to stay inside and read--or to be outside alone with the drama of the world. Every winter I hoped for snow, lots of snow. I loved to watch it fall, pile up, turn the world into a pretty and muffled place. During my Maryland childhood, snow was rare. Here in Iowa, snow is a regular event. It’s my dream of weather come true--dramatic, stunning, unpredictable, brutal, gorgeous weather.

Liking snow, and liking winter, requires a serious commitment. Most people don’t, and don’t try. Winter bestows a license to complain, to give up going out, being active, eating well. I’m an outcast: I go out daily with my dog, regardless--and I secretly like the weather. The cold is solid and dependable and there is no disappointment here--yes there will be snow, yes it will be cold. There are boundaries. We are embraced, all season, by cold and ice and light.

In the very coldest time, our holidays of light appear, Christmas and Hanukah and the solstice. Did they begin as exactly this, reminders of the light to be? Down the street the blacksmith hangs his handmade Christmas lanterns high in his trees, a makeshift heaven in the air, magical and glowing globes, boxes, pyramids, a garden of glittering delights, flashing and floating above and around us, wrapping us in fairyland. They shine like cold jewels, not themselves warm but giving the illusion and dream of warmth, warmth of spirit, warmth nearby.


It is the first week of April. The grass is turning green and the tulips are above ground. Slow, but as solid and dependable as the winter cold, spring is arriving. Every day, the returning light lengthens. Every day, we are embraced by birdsong at dawn, by shining constellations of tree blossoms against a warmer sky.

No comments: