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  • Writer's picturestephanieraffelock

Winter Stories That I know By Heart

Each year changes me, remolds me, like clay becoming a pot, unfinished and waiting. Each place changes me. This place, Austin, is like a sunny windowsill for an old cat who wants to feel the sun on her back, and sit outside on the porch listening to the forest sing.

The days here ebb and flow, moving toward and then receding from warmth. Sometimes, rain. Last year, there was snow. The first snow that Austin had seen in a decade. The swirling angels of white flakes, were familiar friends. I’ve called northern places home, lived in high altitudes with heavy snow on the bough of pines that bend in prayer to the universe.

We needed that snow last winter. A cool cloth for a fevered head; a cool cloth to take away the inflammation of political blood sport and the fear of a pandemic, as yet untamed. It was a gift from the Goddess of Winter, an old woman, beckoning us to make the descent, to find answers to what we seek in the wisdom of nature. I’m a student of that old woman with the face weathered by cold, who brought the unexpected snow, dense with delight and fraught with warning.

In the cool mornings of this December, I pull on thick socks. A fire in the fireplace. Quiet with notebooks, laptop and the drone of news that I can’t seem to escape because I’m afraid, and I keep looking for signs that we are going to be okay. Are we going to be okay?

Winter, please keep me still and reflective. Winter, pull me into the earth. When I close my eyes, let me feel for the doorway of my heart and burrow into the place where beauty and art are born. Let me become new again in the dark and chaos, the fear and the hope of these cold and quiet days.

My little girl winters -- when I was seven, ten, thirteen-years-old, were faithful to a ritual that strung the years together. First snow. Each morning, running to the window and opening the curtains with expectation and anticipation in my heart. Did it snow? No matter how many mornings disappointed me, no matter how many mornings the grass remained cold, brown and brittle, I would run to the window again. Maybe tomorrow, the first snow will come.

One morning it appeared, a duvet of white that made the world look beautiful. And no one had yet disturbed the magic. Not a foot print marred the perfection. Lost in imaginings of angels and ice towers, I scanned the frozen land, guided by wonder. Winter invited the seven, the ten, the thirteen-year-old to run through the drifts and see up close the wings of winter angels.

I moved to California when I was seventeen. There, the winters promised palm trees and beach walks. I hoped for a day cold enough to wear a sweater. One year I had a red sweater, a pattern of black reindeer and hearts knitted into the red. I wore it to a Christmas party. But it was too hot and made me sweat. Off in the distance, I longed for what I could see -- something white topping the blue-gray mountains.

After so much time in California, I returned to Colorado and twenty-five years of the old ritual-- first snow anticipation, came alive again. I’d walk the trails with a dog so happy at the sight of the white stuff, that we both laughed. The feeling of cold toes and nose and then that first blast of heat when I came back into the house. The smells of joyful wet dog, of joyful wet wool. I was hardy and invigorated by those winter walks.

One morning, a crane stood in the middle of the stream, its silver feathers blending into the white snow and grey skies. She stopped me. We stared at each other and I was captured by the grace of that moment. I recognized her as the gatekeeper to the place where the years accumulate, a new place, that would once again change me.

Winter reflections on this last day of 2021. I’m wondering if Austin will get snow again. The climate is changing. Lost in a sea of uncertainty, the world is changing. I change too, recording it with pen and laptop, trying to make some sense of what ails us. I’m scanning the horizon for peace. The darkest days are behind me and the light is slowly returning, seeping in through cracks in the walls and lingering. Hang onto the light and the hope of new beginnings, I tell myself. Hang on tight.

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