A hymn of redemption and melting water


Winter on the Northern Plains is always an exercise in patience and biding one’s time. No amount of fortitude or dressing for the weather or vitamin D supplementation (although these things do help!) can ever really keep the inevitable and crushing claustrophobia of cabin fever from setting in eventually. When it does set in, and it will, there’s nothing left to do but wait for the weather to change.

This year we had such mild weather in November and December, I assumed even if it turned January-ish in January we’d be fine. We were sitting in shirtsleeves on the porch on the winter solstice for gosh sakes, the bedspreads I’d aired on the laundry line a few weeks ago still smelled like sunshine. By February all bets would be off, of course, but for January at least, I was certain we’d be ok.

Two weeks of deep, deep cold with brutally high winds occasionally thrown in for some variety, proved that once again prairie winter is wilier and more conniving than mere mortals can fully comprehend. By the end of last week, I was fully convinced, as I have been so many Januaries before, that I could not stand one more day. More importantly, we were definitely not going to spend another winter in this bleak, moonscape of an ecosystem that clearly wasn’t meant to be inhabited by human animals. Yes, it was time to start contemplating a new career in Arizona or North Carolina or ANYWHERE that wasn’t this cold. Perhaps I could become a yoga instructor in some delightfully temperate town in the Pacific Northwest? Or own a yarn shop in Savannah, Georgia? Even my very tough, stoic husband was beginning to look a bit twitchy, pacing around like a tiger in a too-small cage.

Part of the prairie’s wiley nature isn’t just the cold though, or we all probably would have made good on our threats of moving south a long time ago. No, part of her power is that whenever the proverbial last straw is placed on the proverbial camel’s back weather-wise, a wind will rise from a new direction. It’s a hard, relentless win, and newcomers might mistake it for more bad weather, but it’s actually carrying the exact opposite. In a matter of hours, the temperature can rise 20, 30, even 50 degrees.

Suddenly the frozen tundra is transformed. A person can step outside, breathe in deeply, and not experience the sensation of the inside of his or her nose becoming instantly frostbitten. The steady beat of water dripping from melting snow is the rhythm of our daylight hours. The sheets of ice that formed in ridges along our roofs and fence posts snap and crackle, falling with loud, satisfying smashes. The snow itself begins to sing as it turns into rivers of mud.

Yesterday night the wind came up, and today the outdoor thermometer reads 40 degrees higher than when we went to bed. A miracle! It won’t last, of course. This is a thaw, not spring.

It won’t last, but the melting ice outside my open window sounds like a hymn of redemption. A temporary respite is a still respite. Aren’t spring and summer simply longer respites from winter, just as winter is a respite from spring and summer, just as dawn is a respite from night, just as the sparkling stars are a respite from endless brightness?

So today I’m thinking I don’t need to leave this country after all. The promises made here are never broken. It WILL get cold again, but then it will warm. The water will sing. The snow will offer itself to the green grass. The old bones will become new earth. A January thaw is the first act of a long performance that never ends, that never changes, that grows tiresome, and then, somehow leads to rejoicing. The familiar kind of rejoicing that reminds us to be human is to suffer and then to be reborn into wonder.


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