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Winter Morning

January 20, 2014

Since she’d been in London this fall, we drove Eleanor and all her stuff back to Grinnell over the weekend (rather than flying her back as usual, this time of year). It’s more than 1200 miles round-trip, so we left on Friday morning, hoping to move her in on Saturday morning and make it back home in one long day. Weather interfered, though–as it tends to, in January–and we ended up carrying her stuff into the dorm during a snowstorm and then driving across Iowa and Illinois with the same storm. We got to Hobart, Indiana after dark and stopped for the night at Ron’s brother’s house. Then we drove the rest of the way back home in the right-hand lanes of the highways on Sunday, because the passing lanes were full of blowing snow, deep in spots.

Ron had offered to make the trip without me, but Walker had weekend plans and I was afraid I’d spend most of two days worrying, like the speaker in this poem by Todd Davis:

Winter Morning

My wife and I sit on an aspen that fell
during last February’s ice storm, its bulk
blocking the trail that snakes around the curve
of the mountain’s back. No ice storms this year,
and today the blue of late January slides
around the bowl of the sky. We can’t see
beyond, but we know the darkness of space
glitters like ice on the ends of branches,
and like ice, the weight of its darkness
may topple us, bar the path
we had hoped to take.

So we took that path. Now we are both exhausted and not at all caught up for the week ahead, but I feel a sense of satisfaction that I did not let my fear of winter weather keep me at home, shaking. In fact, I got a good dose of desensitization for my fear of falling on ice, since every time we stopped the car, I had to get out and slide over parking lots covered with wind-frozen slush.

We were listening to an audiobook of Kerouac’s On The Road, with its longing and planning for one place while stuck in another, and then the longing for a newer place before the characters had even half gotten to the place they’d thought they wanted to be.  Listening to the stories of Dean traveling halfway across the country to say one heartfelt-but–largely-pointless thing to Sal made me feel less like we were just spinning our wheels.

I’ve been frozen with fear of the frozen for so long that I’d almost forgotten how freeing it can be to go out despite the “weight of its darkness” and come home untoppled. I may not be ready to face tomorrow morning, but I’m more prepared to face the glittering malice of another winter morning, after traveling so far to end up where I started.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. lemming permalink
    January 20, 2014 8:01 am

    Marvelous poem, and even with all of the complications, I think you made the right choice.

    • January 21, 2014 10:30 am

      Probably it was the right choice…but I still have to get through this week at work.

  2. January 20, 2014 8:08 am

    As I told lemming, Kent read an article about fear a while back and one bit he shared with me that has stuck long after the rest of the details have faded: people who are afraid of flying don’t fly because of the fear. They don’t fly because they don’t buy the tickets.

    Not that you need my thumbs up on the choice you made, but you have it anyway. And also on the walking/sliding across slick snowy surfaces.

    • January 21, 2014 10:32 am

      Yes, Eleanor grits her teeth and buys the tickets because she is afraid of flying but more afraid of not going where she wants to go. I’ve appreciated and admired her determination about this since she was fairly young.

  3. January 20, 2014 8:29 am

    I wish I’d read that poem when I still lived in Illinois, because it is very much my experience of winter there. But I’m glad to read your comments on it now, as I’ve been thinking about fear a lot this morning, how fear is the one thing that seems to have total control over a person and that it can be very hard to see that we actually have more control over our fear than we think. I’m thinking about it because I’ve just reread a several years old, very flawed but honest essay on Martin Luther King that most of us think he’s important for the wrong reasons. It’s not about making great speeches, or making it so black and white children can play together in harmony. It’s that he taught African Americans how to conquer their fear by showing them that they could take the worst life had to dish out and still rise up singing. I’ve been thinking about this because of the holiday, yes, but mostly for reasons that are more selfish and small. I think about someone I know who has become so afraid of falling that she almost never leaves her house now, instead pacing around it like a caged animal. I watch how her fear has aged her, made her smaller (both literally and figuratively) and I vow not to let that happen to me. But even as I think it, I know that it may happen. We make many decisions informed by fear, not all of them bad. But every time I let fear run the show, my soul dies a little bit while I scramble to rationalize the choice I have made. More is lost than gained. I’m thinking that to take someone’s fear away is maybe the greatest gift a person can give another person. I think maybe we should be celebrating King for more than just a day. Or maybe we should just celebrate all our small and personal braveries.

    • January 21, 2014 10:34 am

      I think the only way to celebrate bravery is to start with the small and personal and then work up. If bravery looks like a big thing that only happens to extraordinary people, then fewer of us will be moved to emulate it, however minutely.

      • January 22, 2014 10:19 am

        Yes exactly. When I first got into running, I had to think in terms of running 3 minutes or to that lamp post or whatever. To contemplate running longer or further would have flat out derailed me.

  4. lemming permalink
    January 20, 2014 9:21 am

    Harriet – I read the same article. Powerful stuff.

  5. January 20, 2014 1:58 pm

    Whilst the journey might have been difficult, this is a lovely post. For some reason (though I’m not disappointed!) we’ve had quite a mild winter on the whole, but we did have one not long ago that sounds like yours. Very cold, snow, dangerous. I like the poem, and yes, it fits wonderfully here! I’ve not read On The Road yet, but I read a rewrite of sorts (On The Holloway Road) and there was enough of the Kerouac there to suggest that it’s a very good book indeed.

    • January 21, 2014 10:37 am

      I think you have to be in the mood to put up with Kerouac. He can help loosen me up, until the point one of his characters says or does something so ludicrous I want to back away slowly.

  6. January 21, 2014 1:00 pm

    I’m glad you made it back safely, Jeanne. Here in the UK we can’t begin to imagine what that sort of journey means. And what a good choice of audio book. They do make such a difference when you have any distance to travel, don’t they?

    • January 21, 2014 7:38 pm

      They make a big difference to me. My mind wanders (and god forbid the steering wheel should follow) when I listen to music.

  7. January 21, 2014 4:34 pm

    Glad you made it to and fro safely!

    • January 21, 2014 7:39 pm

      Me too. Ron drove most of the way, because he grew up in a place where it snowed. (Where I grew up, we just waited until it melted, because that was usually by noon the next day.)

  8. January 21, 2014 4:45 pm

    I’m so proud of you! I would have found such a drive immensely difficult. Now you have the deep satisfaction of having conquered winter travelling, and the knowledge that you are every bit as courageous as you need to be. Lovely poem, too. I’ve never read On The Road, though I know one day I really ought to.

    • January 21, 2014 7:42 pm

      Thanks 🙂
      You know the old joke about the difference between an American and a Brit, don’t you? An American thinks 100 years is a long time. A Brit thinks 100 miles is a long way.
      On the Road is very much a book of its time, so I don’t know if it’s a book you “ought” to read. It is fun on a very long trip you didn’t necessarily have to make.

  9. freshhell permalink
    January 22, 2014 10:49 am

    Well, you know if it had been me, I would have stayed home. But not necessarily out of fear. But because I’d rather be alone in a house than in a car for a zillion hours. In winter. Glad you all got there and back without incident.

    • January 22, 2014 11:02 am

      Sometimes doing is easier than watching and worrying.
      Also, I think driving for 11 hours there and 2 days back is like Dean going halfway across the country just to offer a tacit apology for leaving his buddy stranded in Mexico–it’s saying “seeing your dorm room is more important to me than anything,” even though that’s a little silly. Emotion wins out over practicality.

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