Winter Nights

I went to bed with the window wide open. Snow in the forecast. White sheers rippling wraithlike waves of faint light and shadow.

Sometimes on cold winter nights I step outside on the deck before turning out the lights and going to bed. I stand there in my T-shirt and slippers, almost always thinking of the same three things. One is the eternally silent, deep space and divine nature of the cold. It exists with such thoroughness and indifference. This is a time when I open rather than curl inward, standing still getting colder and colder. I can do this because of my second thought. On the other side of the closed door the house is warm and comfortable. Finally I imagine someone less fortunate. I linger longest on this, visualizing myself without a home, on a street in shadows and rags huddled into myself aware that tonight I might die. I stay until I’m too cold, go back inside and close the door.

As the first snowflakes find their way through the window onto the sill and bedroom floor I have my first dream. I am dead. Travelling over six inches of crusty snow down a hill between grey, brittle trees, abandoned bird nests of grass, hair and twinkling ice crystals. One of Brueghel’s hunters returning late to a deserted village. No form or footprint marks my passage.

Waking, the room feels like outside. The end of my nose is cold and I can see my breath. In the second dream you open the front door and appear surprised. I remove my snowshoes, bang them together and plant them in a snowdrift. When I  turn the door is closed but I’m on the inside. Our children are laughing and wrestling on the floor with a handsome stranger. Everyone stops.

This time when I open my eyes I don’t go back to sleep. Frozen in a snowdrift, I remember a night sixteen years ago. It was just after midnight and I was sitting with my mother in her sixth floor apartment. My father, after a long illness, had died that morning. We had our chairs turned and were looking out the large sliding glass doors onto the church parking lot below. Large flakes of snow were falling, illuminated by streetlights. Suddenly a large snowy owl, wings spread wide appeared, sailed directly at the window, veered and descended to sit on a snow covered branch across the road. Six stories up, framed in a rectangle of light we wept. In grief and joy and wonder.

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6 thoughts on “Winter Nights

    • Thanks Siobhaun! This may be a personal favourite, especially for the mix of fact and fiction. I do stand on the deck at night and think those three things… and although it’s actually eighteen years ago that my dad passed away, the incident with the owl actually happened.

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