The Plagued Parent

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A Winter of Listening

winter activities

Right now the thermometer says the outside temperature is 50 degrees and rising. It is warm, too warm for January, and almost unnatural for Winter.

Last week a storm threatened us here in New England with temps in the teens and 4-8 inches of snow. The computer models were off a little, by Sunday we ended up with about a foot of the white stuff.

At some point on Saturday, when it looked as if we were going to get dumped on, I thought about my snow-blower. Temperamentally, I am like Aesop’s grasshopper character, you know the one who sits around lazily enjoying himself all summer while the busy responsible ant prepares for the coming doom of Autumn. That’s me, the former and not the latter.

I am not one of these practical and mature ants who listen and prepare. I don’t mark my the edges of my driveway and lawn with fluorescent orange sticks in November to guide the plows; I rarely remember to pull the snow shovels from their hiding places deep beneath the beach chairs — hell, if I’m lucky the shovels stay front and center because I forgot to put them away the winter before. Honestly, it was the second week of December when I finished raking the leaves.

No, I always wait until the last minute, always under the gun, always waking up at midnight leaping from bed having forgotten to do this thing little or that not-so-little thing.

With the winds howling and the snow falling, we sat in the family room, fire blazing when I realized the snowblower hadn’t been started since last February. Crap! Underprepared as per usual.

clean garage for winter

This is not my garage…

To get to the snow blower, I had to move a car, wrestle the damn thing from beneath two sets of unused golf clubs, the hammock and other assorted things sent to die and be forgotten in the recesses of the suburban wasteland of my garage.

Once I got it free, I pulled the car back into the garage and noticed the gas cans on the shelf illuminated in my headlights. “Shit,” I thought, “Do I even have gas?” My snowblower is about 25 years old, was inherited from my father when he upgraded to a new machine, and takes an oil-gas mix. Every season it is the same ritual: shovels, check; snowblower, check; gas mix, che… Oh, wait… Huh, funny thing about the gas situation…

From the shelf the red plastic can with “Snow Mix” written in Sharpie taunted me. “So, what do you think,” it seemed to say. “Am I full, or am I empty? Place your bets, people.”

ready for winter travelWith me there’s rarely a 50/50 chance; 70/30 is more likely, 60/40 at best. And, if you’re placing the Over/Under with your bookie, I’d suggest betting on the can being empty, I know I would. Pulling the can from the shelf, it sloshed heavily in my hands. “Yes,” I said aloud, Bullet dodged. Sometimes you get lucky.

With the garage door open, I filled the snowblower, primed the engine, engaged the choke and started the damn thing with the first pull. Like, I said sometimes you get lucky.  I let it run for a minute or two then turned the thing off.

That’s when it hit me. The quiet. the long stretch of my driveway was a perfect blanket of  white. Several inches of snow that fell the day before which laid in piles along the driveway’s edge had been absorbed and blended as if they hadn’t been there at all.

Winds blew harsh across my face and hands. It was cold, 20 degrees or so. it was cold and I could hear the season speak its name in dark solitude. My neighbor across the street had their flood light on and it cast a moon-like glow over the cut-de-sac, magnifying the quiet.

I stood. I breathed the cold and I listened. But what did I hear?

This morning, it took randomly running across the poem below to realize what I heard in the howling winter winds, the clattering of frozen tree branches and the occasional cracking of their limbs.

Each Winter we face a desolation of fullness. We mark the time it takes to move desperately closer towards Summer’s easy warmth — that season comes too easily. What we forget in winter is that we make our own warmth, we are responsible for nurturing it, no one else. That is if we choose to listen.

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, but if I could improve on one thing it would be listening. To listen fully, both inside and out, is a valuable skill and certainly one that I hope to learn from Winter. And, even if she insists on being un-seasonably mild I’m certain she has plenty to say.

The Winter of Listening
by David Whyte

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
forgetting
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
forgetting
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
difficulty
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
otherness.

Silence and winter
has led me to that
otherness.

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

 

Updated: January 12, 2017 — 9:03 am

12 Comments

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  1. nothing left but a big mudpit where all that snow was a few short days ago, but I get what you’re saying. We have a pretty good view of the surrounding towns from where our house is. I like to go outside in the morning and listen to the winter wind as I watch all the lights slowly start to turn on.

    1. Sounds like quite a sight. Thanks Jeremy.

  2. Good one. I always think we spend far too much time wishing for what is to come and not enough savoring what is right now.

  3. I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions either, but this is definitely one of the better ones. I am stealing it from you.

    1. Feel free. Let me know how it works out for you. Thanks for reading…

  4. That is about my level of organisation! Not that we ever get enough snow to need snow blowers, of course, unfortunately. I love winter though (and snow if it happens). Never thought of it as needing to make our own warmth, but I am much happier in winter so maybe I like that.

    1. Well, we just got a few inches last night so if you feel like shoveling…

  5. Lovely post. I like the stillness after a storm and the relative quiet of winter. Your winter preparations made me laugh as I would probably be like that if it wasn’t for my well prepared husband who marks the edges of our driveway with orange sticks. There is so much value in listening, a lost art, forced upon us by a winter storm.

    1. Thanks Molly, as this sounds better than my post I think.

  6. *waves hello from New Hampshire*

    Not sure if you’re in the path of this latest blizzard, but if so, I hope you didn’t grasshopper! 🙂

    Oh, and I agree – learning to listen well is an amazing talent, and one I’m also working on. Lovely reminder – thanks!

    1. Yes, we were in the path of the blizzard. Yes, I did grasshopper. At the last minute I was lugging wood to the bin as the wind swirled slapping snow in my face. Did I learn? Nope. Today, same drill. Oh, well. Thanks Traci.

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