Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Aching Beauty

 Sunset approaches as I step outside and am met with a chill that invades my coat as quickly as the door closes. We are in the depth of an Arctic cold spell. Though the day tickled at the bottom edge of 20, the crisp air seems to await sundown to draw any leftover warmth from my fingers.

 I have to step into the snow to find a spot that places the sun behind the pines, that silhouettes them darkly. The snow is alive with the last light of day; it looks positively warm with its orange glow. But is is 13 degrees as I stand there, find the proper frame and press the shutter.

 Without a wind, I've decided to walk back Sam's driveway as the sun sinks further. His lane, plowed by D.R. Coffman, is a two-track, twin thin black ribbons, black as the night that descends. A few clouds now litter the west, give the sun something to play against, brings the final rays to life.

 Another minute - two? - the sun slides through the distant branches and disappears. The snow, holding leftover corn stubble, will quickly reflect any of the day's leftover heat, skyward. The approaching night will suck it away.

 Now home, I turn into our driveway and look to the west, an achingly beautiful sight. The sun is wholly gone and night begins to rule. It is 11 degrees already and zero seems assured.
 Two nights ago, I decided to sleep on the,living room floor. Dad was apprehensive: furnace, pipes, the unknown dangers of another brutal night. By midnight I have not slept a minute. "Are you awake? Will you quit snoring?" I say. "I'm not asleep," he answers. "Then why are you snoring?" I counter. "I'm not," he says as the bedclothes rustle and he turns over.
 So to my own bed for a while - an hour, no more - and then I am back up checking. All's well. -12 on the thermometer.
 At 3 a.m., yet another check. The water in the bathroom sink runs fine. "It's all yours, Dad," I say. The thermometer reads -16 as I do a double-take to make sure of what I'm seeing. I climb the stairs for a last time.
 As cold as the nights have been, they are still beautiful. The recent full moon has lit each night and the snow has reflected it back into our windows. I watch the black tree branches silhouetted across the snow arc west to east as the night progresses.
 I cannot help but love the cold, even though it costs me dearly. At the same time, it pays me back a hundred-fold.