A Berkshire Journal: Segue to Winter

November 16, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

Earnest cold has not set in yet, this late-fall morning in the Berkshires. Heavy sweater, thick wool scarf, and mittens hand-knit by my mother are still enough to keep me warm. I head out for a walk. I’ve added on an extra layer underneath for every week gone by since October swept us out, and dropped us down like windblown leaves into November. Three layers in, it’s almost time to wear the winter coat, or it will get too difficult to move.

My breath pushes out into the chill, its little clouds brief punctuations at each step up the quiet road. The Housatonic River rushes over-full, below. A thick mist rings the base of the hill just beyond, holding its frost-tipped crown to the sun.

I pause at the top, just a tiny speck in such a vast expanse! The stillness of the sky above, the wind, between. I move inside of this, and all which moves it. It is good, this morning walk that wakes me with a cold pinch on the cheek and offers some perspective.

Down the north side now and on the dirt road, I take an impulsive left, ducking branches onto the trail that runs west through the woods. The gusts of wind are broken here by birch, spruce, oak, aspen, ash. Primordial bustle amplifies the undergrowth. Small creatures gather, store, and burrow, birds launch shorter flights from twig to bending twig. The urgency of winter-preparedness, rustling all about.  

Articles in local papers and on the internet have posted winter-readiness since late September, with detailed lists so long they’d take a single person until April to complete. The hardware store has generously dedicated two full aisles to multiple varieties of window-plastic, pipe insulation, weather stripping and the like, the mighty roof rake lording over either end. Enough to guarantee arctic survival, should long hours at the office have left one little time to build the igloo this year.

We live in the country, predominantly rural but increasingly gentrified. There is much sense to all of this, I will not disagree! I’ve had my share of waking in mid-February to an in-home Niagara Falls, gushing with great gusto in the depths of the crawl space. So I cut some strips from sweaters that have seen their better days and stuff them tightly into crevices of leaky door frames. Two-sided tape and thin plastic incite the annual wrestling match at each old window. Their redeeming factor, a creative finale of wielding the blow dryer to obliterate remaining wrinkles.

The first cord of firewood has been reasoned with, firmly stacked and covered. All things not fastened to the ground are now stashed in the shed, should a fierce and sudden blizzard somehow sneak past every high-tech, complex, weather monitoring device and catch us off guard, blowing the deck chairs toward Boston. 

Wood for the winter. (Cardinale Montano)

The last of the late kale is blanched and frozen, garlic planted, and the garden put to bed. Unraked leaves will stay to rot under the snow, building up the lawn through winter. These are simple tasks, those we put our hands to, and solve. I savor their rhythm and simplicity. The satisfying sense of completion when they’re done. We are warm, we will stay dry, we will not go hungry. The fragile balance between what we do and how we do it, so essential in connecting with the heart.

Pine needles break underfoot, a rich aroma fills the air. I hear the other, lengthy list calling from the kitchen counter and I know, I know, I’m headed back in that direction. I’d like to be that dog today, I think, who doesn’t come when called. I wonder what it’s like to have the nerve to look back once, then turn and sprint off carelessly the other way. We’ve made ourselves so over-busy in this modern, human life! There will be no running today, and I can’t poke a stick in the spokes of a world spinning madly. But I can take a moment at the top off the hill, inhale the rich scent of decaying leaves and run my hands across the still-green moss. And take what’s left of this precious life doing what I need to do, from the center of the hub.

Cardinale Montano is a freelance writer living in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She shares her creativity with good friends, family, and eager learners, and celebrates daily the blessings of nature in the beautiful Berkshires. She is the founder and designer at LineflaxAndRoving.com