“The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind.”
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)
Winter in Portland is a descent into an alien landscape. Persephone is walking underground, and the underground is above ground. The streets, trails, parks, houses, buildings–the city itself—have become completely transformed. The new city resembles the old city, but it is not the same.
October, November, and December form the descent into the tunnel of encroaching darkness (though the turn actually began on June 21), inching slowly towards the fulcrum of the solstice, when hope and rebirth spark and take root, spiraling out back towards the light and the sun. It is a physical, psychological, and spiritual journey, both repressed and enhanced by electricity, technology and the increasing difficulties of maintaining the daily grind. The people who yearn for winter are usually young.
By January it is almost impossible to believe that one ever traversed sidewalks uncomplicated by clumps, clots, mounds, and banks of snow, lakes of ice and slush, seas of salt and sand, or that one ever simply walked out of the house without donning under-layers, scarf, hat, gloves, a thick waterproof coat, and rugged boots occasionally supplemented by slip-on ice grippers with metal barbs. Not to mention taking the dog out without Mushers Secret slathered on her paws, a plaid “lumberjack” coat with fleece lining buttoned onto her if it happens to be under 20 degrees, which it often is, and a reflective collar and/or attached strobe lights for walks undertaken after 4:30pm, which are many.
Hot humid days are the stuff of a past fever dream and bear no resemblance to the arctic blasts or needles of freezing rain encountered during a quick circle of the once lush and verdant park, now reduced to slippery slushy pathways or slabs of sheer ice.
Yet winter is a season of as immense beauty as to be found as any other. The colors are bewitchingly subtle or suddenly dramatic. Thick snow on the trees at midday against a deep gray sky. Violet skies sinking like a glowing array of jewels over the dark silhouette of the horizon. Ice patterns and the stark remnants of rose hips, milkweed, cattails, spruce trees, shrubs, and goldenrod along the cove. Black, brown, and russet on white set in a deep dusky gray. Brilliant white with the sparkle of crushed diamonds.
Winter is a time of introspection, bright hearth-like rooms, the fandangle of colored lights, and rich displays of evergreen, a sleepy hibernating time of bracing cold and kitchen ovens, bouts of lethargy and near-despair. Yet we persevere and even find joy in the stillness and respite. We are forced to slow down and ponder.
And when spring comes at long, long last, as the miraculous carnival quickly unfolds, winter once again becomes impossible, coats and boots become absurd relics, and it is as if winter never happened nor will ever come again.