Winter changes its serious face daily; presents a mood to me that I can either follow without a thought or willfully turn from, while still being shaped by it. One day brings high pressure, dry air and bright cobalt blue sky, the next overcast ceiling and cold damp air with dirty, half-frozen slush.
Last night, while walking the dog in the heavy falling snow, I was drawn to the softly lit windows of a small country house a half mile down the road. The sensuality of light and warmth, seen from the winter night is unique. Comfort is there and images of the hearth are easily conjured. Perhaps they were drinking hot chocolate, or sherry? The dog was more interested in looking closely, quickly, this way and that, stimulated by the flying flakes and the brightness of the landscape, which strangely reflects and amplifies whatever light there is.
Winter is quiet and a snow storm brings a special solitude to anyone who ventures in to it. Someone could be walking two hundred feet away and you won’t see them or hear them. If the wind is blowing, you may not go far.
Today I saw a bright woodpecker, the Common Flicker, outside of my kitchen window hopping along the trunk of an old maple tree. He is an expert tree clinger. I wonder where he was last night when Dante and I took our walk. Winter requires looking closely. It reveals itself in the transitions, along the edges. Movements in the atmosphere carry a natural drama that changes how we feel life on the ground. It is not casual and easy, but it is a gift.
The east end of Newburgh, staring out over the Hudson, meets winter on bended knee with its leaky buildings and unplowed streets. The shelter, known as Winterhaven, has twenty two men tonight; all grateful to be sleeping on an old factory-room floor. The men have each received their cardboard boxes with folded vellux blankets and are settling in. Someone, a volunteer, was kind enough to bring food. This is winter in the historic city, the home of Lobster Newburgh and the great wide Broadway. This old building saw its manufacturing pass away long ago and now has become the silent witness to mercy.
Everyone is exhausted and the initial bursts of chatter that started outside of the door during the patient waiting for opening time have quickly faded as the warm air from the overhead blower makes the idea of sleep become sleepiness itself. A winter day is long and hard on the street, but John tells me that it is beautiful; he loves to be on the street when the snow starts and it makes him smile when he talks of it. It is the cold that he hates. Frank tells me how beautiful the river looks from his hiding places, one of which is in the operator's cabin of an elevated crane off of Water Street. He tells me that he sees the Hudson River winter in a way that no one else does and invites me to climb with him to his perch tomorrow.
I am thinking about the mercy and democracy of beauty, the beauty of winter doing its bidding for all, even in the east end. And I am seeing it through these people and it will stay with me long after I drive to my warm and peaceful home.