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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: January 23, 2020

Jane Thibodeau Martin

The Gut of Winter

My husband's family talks about the "heart of June" being a special time of early summer, with warm sunshine, ripening strawberries and happy weddings. Right now, we are in what I am going to call the "gut" of winter. I am not complaining, but we've been in the grip of the cold for quite a while now, and we have quite a way to go until spring. Some of the novelty of the reprieve from lawn care; the beauty of the snow; and the short days and long nights has worn off.

I've often heard that the Inuit and Yupik (Indigenous Alaskan people sometimes referred to as "Eskimos") had hundreds of words for snow; and I believed it. However, as is often the case, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. Some of this large number of "snow" words is because their languages, not surprisingly, are structured very differently than English. But a way to think of it is our English language having dozens of words for "water." For example, there is lake, dew, rain, puddles, stream, drinking, ocean, etc. There is no denying, though, that they would have a larger working vocabulary for snow that those of us who experience snow only seasonally.

I have, however, in the last few days paid attention to some of the freshly falling snow I've seen. The variety is enormous. As I write this, there is a very slow, light fall of tiny snowflakes. There is no wind, so each one meanders its way to earth in what looks like a leisurely, random amble. But last Saturday night when I was at the animal shelter, near blizzard conditions existed at the top of the rural hill where the shelter is located. Nothing blocked the wind and the snow was heavy; with the flakes passing me in a horizontal rush. I walked nine dogs and had plenty of time to absorb the beauty and power of the storm.

Illuminated billboards on the highway below me dimly back-lighted the thick currents of snow, and it made me admire the incredible strength and perseverance of the indigenous people of this state. Surviving a winter storm like this without the home, furnace, and amazing winter clothing I depend on would be a brutal test of my mental and physical health, one I very likely would not pass at 63 years of age, a sobering thought. Certainly it would have been hard on elderly and very young Native Americans as well.

Most of the shelter dogs, especially those we volunteers collectively call the "littles" like pugs and shih-tzus, were underwhelmed with the grandeur of this storm when I took them outside to relieve themselves. But two of the big "mystery mix mutts" threw themselves into the snow, rolling in ecstasy before buying their snouts in a drift up to the eyeballs. One grabbed an icicle that had fallen off the shelter roof and chewed it joyfully. They would have been willing to stay outside much longer than I wanted to. I was grateful the cats, rabbits and guinea pigs in residence all have litter boxes and don't have to be taken outdoors.

Walking my own dogs this morning with a stiff wind chill, I heard the pop and crack of wood in the deep forest next to our road. I always am fooled by this sound, stopping to listen because I think it is deer or another animal moving away from our noisy approach, but our dogs never make this error. They ignore the natural sounds of wood adjusting to the cold, but snap to attention at the actual sound of a fleeing animal. This incredible skill of theirs, the superiority of their ears and noses to our own, is what caused our ancestors to employ formerly wild canines as hunting partners. They were not looking for pets; they were looking to benefit from the skills of what became our domesticated dogs.

One of this winter's mysteries is the disappearance of the large flocks of finches we had on our patio daily last winter. Mike and I have only seen a handful, despite the same stocked feeder we used last year. Have they found a better feeding station? Was it a poor breeding summer? Is there some reason this year's weather has caused them to relocate? I mull the possible explanations, but only inscrutable Mother Nature knows the answer.

Every morning now, dawn comes just a few minutes sooner. We rise early, and I am usually out walking Ivy and Wolfgang well before sunrise. But where my entire walk was in the dark just a few weeks ago, now I am enjoying the "crack" of dawn " the first lightening of the eastern sky and the improved visibility while we trek down the road. By the time we get home, and I peel off the layers of clothing needed for such cold outdoor walking, I can eat breakfast while watching, at least most days, a spectacular sunrise develop. I send electronic "good morning" greetings to my children in Seattle and Tulsa with pictures of morning landscapes, every day dawning a little differently than the one before it, but each beautiful in their own way, like the snowflakes.

We have a long way to go to get out of the gut of winter, but signs of spring will begin to appear soon. The winter will not get too long for me, unless it is still hanging on in the heart of June.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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