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October, 2006

My Favorite Times and Places are Frozen

by Larry

It is ironic that I have wound up in hot, hot TX, as global warming threatens to turn the uncomfortable into the unbearable, for my memories, frozen now in time, of happy experiences as I was growing up or early in my semi-professional career, almost all involved ice, sleet, snow, and cold.

There were the northern VA snowmen or angels made in fresh falls of snow. There were the ceaseless snowball fights with friends, a sister, or brothers, the cops and robbers games when running full tilt (because it was so cold out one never got overheated) from or to exciting new snowy places, or "dying" and falling into icy drifts, or exploring the wintry landscapes in rural suburbs near Omaha, NE, when the wind chill was well below zero and all was silent but the sound of tiny sleet beads as I stalked rabbits or foxes for hours through the white expanses.

There were the frozen streams, magically transformed as if into thick transparent glass poured for miles between and around the banks and small hills.

There were natural fish traps in WA, where chill but still flowing waters of creeks descended through gravel into underground rivulets.

There were the ways winter changed ordinary landscapes or plants into artistic vistas and sculptures better than mere human creators could conjure.

There were the white-capped Cascade Mountains looking endless off into a western horizon's distance like so many huge waves of a giant frozen surf as seen from close to the top of Mount Rainier.

There were, even in mid-summer, the icy central NY lakes, where we went swimming and would turn blue, and, in winters, there were the frozen waterfalls in canyons near the Finger Lakes, the dragon's teeth rows of icicles, long as a man's arm, hanging from the roofs and glistening in the sun, the wind so cold it could steal your breath, numb noses, fingers, and toes in minutes, freeze the fog of one's breath, send chill drafts throughout a house, but then a warm fire would bring cheer, maybe augmented by a cup or two of hot, cinnamon flavored apple cider.

Christmas has never seemed quite complete or right in the hotter climes, but in VA, NE, WA, or NY the autumns came with a colorful change of foliage, and often as well late Decembers were remarkable for truly white Yuletides.

In a snowy landscape, noises are muffled down to the bare minimum, so one can notice the subtlest sounds of descending crystals, foraging birds, gentle shifts in the wind, or the creaking complaints of leafless limbs, while all about the tree trunks seem stark in their contrast to the terrain's white garb.

Tiny tracks and occasional trails of larger hoof or paw prints, newly molded upon pure snowfields, belie an apparently dead emptiness of the landscape with fresh evidence of ferrets, woodpeckers, elk, foxes, mink, mice, hawks, coyotes, woodchucks, muskrats, crows, rabbits, deer, or eagles.

It was surely no accident that Robert Frost was one of my most appreciated poets:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here,
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer,
To stop without a farmhouse near,
Between the woods and frozen lake,
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake,
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep,
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I would surely not be at home in the Arctic, but I love, in their many big and small expressions and forms, the winters of our temperate regions. Others may rush to soak up the rays in semi-desert or tropical areas, but for me the best migration would be back toward the more icy lands from which so many of these have just come.

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