A twisting (and sometimes twisted) exploration of devotion, seership, hearth witchery, and the mysteries of traditional femininity.
Here in Eugene, we are in a valley surrounded by the Cascade mountains, which means we ordinarily get milder weather than the rest of Oregon. By the first week of February, we have usually left winter behind us and are embarking on early springtime. The plants never completely die back during the winter (the summer is our dead season instead, when the bright west coast sun sears everything brown) and we get so much rain that not only the ground but also the tree branches are covered by a layer of bright emerald moss. (Hence Eugene’s moniker “the Emerald City”–a nickname that brings me no end of joy, considering my love for The Wizard of Oz.) The rains come daily, the sky is always overcast, and when it is not actually raining the air is filled with a gentle mist.
This year, however, the winter was a lot drier than usual, and the moss was a dull brownish green. We got hit with an uncharacteristic snowstorm in December (about ten inches!), and then in January sparse amounts of rain, punctuated by bright, cold days, the sun shining in a clear blue sky, interspersed with days captured in a grey, freezing fog that turned your lungs to ice. But at the beginning of February springtime seemed as sure as ever; the smell of the air itself had changed and there was now a green note, a whiff of damp earth and ozone. Last week, I found a patch of wild violets that I began harvesting—a handful at a time–to make a syrup.
And then came the snow.
Three days of snow and ice, at least a foot of snow dumped on the valley floor followed by a half inch of ice. Our front steps were buried and hidden; we had to excavate them to make a path for our small dog, who would otherwise disappear beneath the surface of the snow. The tree branches are frosted in white and festooned with icicles, and all the world is enclosed within the ringing silence of a white sky, mirroring the white that lies everywhere. Our fence, the awning above our door, and the power lines all glisten with sparkling icicles. (The power line leading into our duplex has come halfway down, in fact, and is awaiting an electrician.) It is breathtakingly beautiful and yet surreal, because the unmistakable scent of spring still hangs in the air, beneath the clear, cold scent of the snow.
Last winter, I remarked to Jo that I missed snow. It looks like Someone made sure I wouldn’t have to go on missing it. The liminal seasons of spring and fall are my favorites (especially fall), but except for the opportunity to get fleece washed and dried I actually prefer winter (even classic east coast winter) to summer. The stillness of the ice, the enforced rest and confinement the snow imposes (our little city is so unused to snow that it basically just shuts down in the face of it; there is only one plough truck, no salt or shovelling, and the strategy seems to be to just wait for it to melt) brings with it a sense of psychic quiet, especially at night when the whole world is shrouded in moonlit white. The effect, to me, is rather like that of wearing a head covering, which I occasionally do; your thoughts are enclosed, shielded, and reflected back at you. There is a buffer between you and the rest of the world. I love this so much, it’s a shame I have to wish the snow away, but the sad fact is that I can’t get to my day job in this kind of weather without risking injuring myself. And we need the money from my day job, especially now that expensive medicine for our dog’s heart condition is a factor.
All day yesterday, we heard the sound of freezing rain striking the already-extant coating of ice, alternating with the steady drip drip drip of the ice melting. I heard and saw a tree shift under the weight of the melting ice its needles were sloughing off. Today, there is the constant drip, drip, drip of ice melting—a good thing! Our street is closed to traffic due to downed power lines, and our own power line still hangs suspended, halfway down; the electrician never came. But we still have power—knock on wood. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but at least we have bread and cheese, popcorn and toilet paper—and a pan of brownies. Not to mention a dye pot filled with goodies—1k yards of yarn!–that I hand painted last night.
If I try to visualize the season as a person, I see the Snow Queen, all jagged edges and robed in ice: Dame Holda in the Northern traditions, shaking her quilt to make the snow fall. And yet, with the latent scent of spring in the air She is more like Gerda, the frost giantess who melts in the embrace of Freyr, god of fertility and the harvest. There is the quiet, but also an undercurrent of anticipation, of waiting. One word for the strange season we’re experiencing right now? I pick cocoon: we are swathed in snow like white silk; yet, hidden beneath the surface, things are happening, developing, incubating. And before long, the season will shift, and we will burst free.
Image credit: photograph by Jolene Dawe
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