Winter has a mind that scythes sky, branch, trunk, brush, leaf, and scours the ground as if digging a one-sided horizontal well. It leaves no question as to its place and reveals everything as it might be, were the breath of air unforgiving. Yet, winter does forgive despite all its guises of dismemberment. It forgives other seasons their excesses by clearing them out with all its bitter scrapings. A pause for homage to unflinching resolve within Mind of Winter.
It would be well, now, too to flatten and kiss the ground in gratitude. It is winter right now, somewhere. Meanwhile in all elsewhere, everything is melting, and the sands of the Anthropocene drop through the hourglass, each sparkling, sparking grain within it an accelerant chip. Oh Winter, our thanks for putting a breath of frost between each grain of fire!
I have within my own cornucopia of gratitude, three winters north of the Alaska Range, just south of Fairbanks, a few short years before the big changes. The time before time, the nub end of which I was so privileged to catch. In those reliable times, winter was still predictable and long. Blessed these times, when winter applied slow glacial pressures with great patience, and a force equal to that of a slow-motion avalanche, groaning in tones of awe and wonder, so we would know whose mind prevailed.
Some of the true joys I recall reside in my walkabouts on this semi-lunar territory. On the job, at 30 below, well festooned in the warmth of so many layers well provided. It was as if I had just popped out of a toaster and into a deep freezer. We are mysterious engines of body heat; and it is always a virtue to steward well that warmth given from within.
My deep strides in deep white were a singular joy. A quiet that went on forever, deeper than silence itself; a brilliance of snow more scintillating in moonlight than in sun; and an air so keen with clarity the nostrils were cut with a love for the intermingling of the invisibly frozen all around with the now visible pre-facial sauna of clouded pulsing breath. So much was gifted to explore and to complete within this crystalline embryo of solitude. Solitude and its necessary isolation function so well to align all the senses to the sacred states of pristine and virginal barrenness.
I have a mind of winter now. I can’t admit I have a full appetite for it; I linger in other seasons past remembered, mostly spring. There is so much promise there, without the immersive labors of husbandry /harvest of summer/fall.
Still, things are spare with me now. I am looking to winter for a promise. I would have it give me my griefs clean, and simple; bare enough to reveal the bittersweet poetry of these moments near my own end.
My griefs are complicated with regrets, regrets around what I thought should have wanted. Not the least of regrets is that I did not spend more winters north of the Alaska Range. I’m sure it had much more to teach me. One of those lessons, I’m sure, is around the dangers of solitude. I took a taxi, once in Fairbanks, and the driver told me a story.
He was a trapper, pretty much lifelong. He had a trap line that ran 120 miles or so, on federal land. His rights were simply those of occupation, though occupation counts for a lot in the north. Running a trap line is a decades long arc of art and skill. It no small investment to know a vast specific piece of land in this way.
But this happened: a young married couple moved into a cabin on the line and started up their own traps. The area could not support both lines; predators need vast territory. So, he moved out — he left behind all that wilderness he had embraced like a lover for all those years. “Why?” I asked, astonished.
He said it like this. In the course of all those severely isolated years, contact with any other humans, and some aspects of his humanity, were scantly represented, most often. It was, you might say, a life within the mind of winter.
For him, to leverage that couple out would be an act against some part of his humanity; a part of his humanity that he could not afford to lose. That scant sense of connection he needed so dearly to keep inside to still fee the touch of the human.
At great cost, he avoided the peril that awaits those who forget the Mind of Winter is not the mind of man.
By Paul DeLong
On February 19, 2022
Sorry for the typo. “Fee” should read “feel.”