Blowin’ In: A Winter Night

Blowin’ In: A Winter Night
By Susan Mangan

“Ah, yes! For we are gathered here
to celebrate and explore the music of Winter,
the season of frosts and
long dark nights.”                                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                      – Sting

Light fades so quickly in mid-December. Humans tend to turn inward and rush toward the warmth of a well-lit room. It is our nature to crave light, to bend toward sunshine rather than darkness. Great beauty lies, however, in a starlit winter night; winter constellations such as Orion shine brightly in the northern sky.

Last evening, shrouds of ivory laced the silhouette of a crescent moon. With nose raised to the clean fragrance of frost, my English Springer Spaniel leapt with abandon through the crunchy remnants of autumn oak leaves, reveling in a rush of adrenaline. Like her, I feel most alive when outside enjoying the biting winds of winter.

The Spirit of Dogs
Humans can learn so much from the spirit of dogs. Each day is an adventure. Well-worn paths around the garden somehow seem new at the break of day. Nestling her muzzle into the folds of my old, worn robe, Lucy greets me each morning with a wag of her tail. If she could speak, her words would be of joy and gratitude.

During my pet’s morning run, snow had just begun to fall, leaving intricate constellations atop her thick black coat; suddenly, she paused, her body rigid in attention, ears perked, all senses awake at dawn. She looked toward our damson plum tree. There, birds of every feather mingled.

A red-breasted woodpecker dined with a blue jay, while sparrows, protected by their sheer numbers, pecked at a frozen bud. A chickadee whistled, while intimidating hawks flew high above this congenial tree.

In that moment, I was humbled by my place in this world. Perhaps if we embrace the loneliness of this season of frost and drink deeply of the cold wind, we may feel as alive as the animals of winter.

My love of nature lies contrary to the place of my birth. Growing up amid Chicago’s chain-linked fences that separated neighboring homes and their postage stamp lawns, I appreciated the force of nature. During blizzards or thunderstorms, the skies widened, and I could look out above the brick walls of my neighbor’s house, as though I were witnessing a play for the first time.

During winter nights, I would climb atop our family room couch and peer out of the small window that allowed a faint amount of natural light. I still remember a January moon, full, like a rounded scoop of vanilla ice cream looking back at my small and curious countenance.

The need to breathe deeply of crisp winter air was buried deep within my father as well. His regard for nature began during boyhood family vacations to rustic cabins hidden in Canada’s pine-filled woods: hunting pheasant and fishing in remote lakes.

Now, at the age of 89, my dad dreads the short days and long nights of winter. He laments, “I used to love winter. I’d cross-country ski, ice skate. How I loved to skate.”  With that, he and I would reminisce as dads and daughters do.

During long brutal Chicago winters, my father’s neighbor, Mr. Jaeger, a kind elderly German man, taught my father to speed skate. Indoor rinks were scarce during those times.

Mr. Jaeger and my father would trek to Portage Park to practice skating with swift, rhythmic strokes. During those evenings, the city seemed to quiet in reverence to the sharp cut of my father’s blades as he skated on the slick ice of a frozen pond.

When I was five, my father taught me to skate on this same pond. For Christmas, he had given me double-bladed beginner skates. He loved me and wanted to protect me from falling on the unforgiving ice. Meanwhile, the frost would get caught in the gap between the blades and slow me down.

I wanted to fly, and the double blades clipped my wings. Still, it was enough to share the frigid darkness and the moonlit pond with my father as he watched me form a trembling figure eight.

As I grew older, my father continued in his quest for the peace found beneath the dark, still night. Chicago forest preserves have long been protected outside of the city limits. The park system offered cross-country ski trails. Under moon-lit skies, my father and I would ski through snowy woods. 

We never really talked during these outings. Silence was sacrosanct. It was enough to watch our breath manifest in the cold winter air, listening to the soft cadence of our narrow skis cutting through birch-lined paths of snow. Fathers and daughters reminisce, whether in the wood or at the kitchen table, and remember winter nights filled with magic.

*Susan holds an MA in English from John Carroll University and an MA in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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