By Dixie Stephens
Winter brings conflicting feelings for gardeners. The enjoyment of our much-needed rest soon gives way to restlessness. By New Years, I am aching for the physical challenge of working the soil; chafing under woolen clothing that feels too heavy; and pleading with God for a sunny day. During these months, I spend many hours watching the birds of winter. They flock to our feeders to eat enormous amounts of birdseed, peanut butter and suet to keep their tiny bodies warm. I am amazed by their energetic acceptance of such adversity. Their cheerful attitude stirs me. It is winter. It is cold. The wind is howling out of a heavy, grey northern sky. The birds aren’t cranky like me. They aren’t curled up in a corner of the couch wrapped in an afghan grumbling about the cold. They are going about the business of surviving with grace.
Admiration for their spirit moves me out of my lethargic contemplation. My cross-country skis standing on the porch remind me that exercise will improve my mood. I succumb with mild enthusiasm to the call, pulling on my long underwear, knee socks, knickers, another wool sweater and wind breaker.
Angus, our Labrador retriever, is keen for a run. He jumps and twitches and cocks his head with ears up at the prospect. He thinks it is great fun to romp in the snow on a cold winter’s morning. He is blessed with what can only be considered limited intelligence and a furry mask to cover his cheeks from the brittle cold.
Angus bounds off the porch and into the snow. He picks up a stray stick and races up the ridge behind our old farm house. His ecstasy knows no limit. I, on the other hand, begin the long trudge up the steep incline with resignation. Halfway up, my legs turn to ash and my lungs burn from the cold. As I crest the hill, the morning sun breaks out from behind the clouds and I feel a surge of gratitude. I turn to ski along the ridge into the pines. The snow shines like a field of diamonds in the distant winter sun.
Angus has already finished his crisscrossing sweep of the ridge and plunged to the fox trot in the valley below. He knows the way. We ski this route frequently. I take a deep breath and follow, careening between pines, landing in a heap at the bottom. Wet cold snow sticks to my cheeks and eyelashes. Angus thinks this is a great game. He returns to urge me on and licks the snow off my face. As I ski down the valley, I know that God is in His heaven. I have reconnected with this wintery world. For the time being, I have come to grips with the minor impositions of winter.