Winter Calls Us Back to the Questions

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 - 2:09 pm

Winter Calls Us Back to the Questions

As winter settles in on us here in Wisconsin — and, I’m told, across a large swatch of the U.S. — I really should not risk offending the weather gods.

But I’m with Carl Reiner who said, “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” I’m also with Roy Blount who said, “The winter you people have in the upper Midwest is not weather. It’s divine retribution.”

But good poets can wave the magic wand of words over something nasty and turn it into something lovely and full of meaning. Here’s a Mary Oliver poem that helped me last night, as I went out in zero weather to help move four inches of snow off our driveway and sidewalk.

“First Snow”
by Mary Oliver

The snow
began here
this morning and all day
continued, its white
rhetoric everywhere
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
The silence
is immense,
and the heavens still hold
a million candles; nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
creekbed lies
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain—not a single
answer has been found—
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.

Mary’s right, of course. Winter calls us back to “why, how, whence such beauty and what the meaning,” and it was truly beautiful out last night.

But as far as I’m concerned, Carl and Roy are right, too!

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.