By early December there was not much snow, and by the end of the December there was not any snow. I took a long walk on a day between then and now. A walk in the far north in winter happens in layers. I wear long johns, a flannel shirt and wool pants, a wool sweater and a jacket that will stand-up to the wind and snow. On my feet are thick wool socks and boots with heavy spikes strapped around them for stability on the ice. I also wear a scarf and a hat. A scarf is for every season. It can function as a towel, a bandage, a rope, a blanket, or visor. I also carry a small backpack. In the backpack is a change of socks, a pair of gloves, an extra-warm jacket, and a thermos filled with either hot coffee or tea. I require coffee, but I prefer tea in the field. Tea tends to hold-up better. It doesn’t get as bitter as coffee. I also carry a camera, a notebook, a couple of pens, and a thin book or two, which lately has been poetry. I could haul Swann’s Way into the woods, but I am not likely to read it. Czeslaw Milosz’s Provinces on the other hand fits neatly between the notebook and the jacket. Plus, I can sit with lines like these:
I have been waiting for this time of year and for a morning when I could look out of a window and see leaves that have blown from the trees and a world that is a little cooler, a little greyer, but not yet bleak and not without color. Although I have been keeping a journal since my teens, I have tried this year to give more attention to such moments and places that are already close to me. I have looked, for instance, from every window inside my house. I have looked at the apples inside a bowl on my kitchen counter. A couple of evenings ago, I sat on my porch with a cup of hot coffee, a slice of warm apple cake, and watched the moon rise over the mountains. There was a moment when I saw the moon blossoming between the branches of the birch trees. For fear of seeming overly romantic, I should admit these moments have been carved out of recognizable chaos. The chaos of not having a functional sink or shower since June, the chaos of my computer dying a week ago, the chaos of working two jobs while dreaming of some other life, the chaos of not dreaming.
On August 12th this year, I noticed the season turning. That afternoon I went outside and saw that the flowers growing beside my shed had slumped closer to the ground. I recognized the slight yellowing of the grass and the reddening of blueberry bushes across the road. Night had returned, too, or almost returned. It was not pitch dark yet, but we are beyond the Midnight Sun and long hours of sunlight. On the 12th a different wind blew over the hills above my house. There was a hint of cooler weather, a scent of rain and decay and woodsmoke. These scents blended and hung in the air for a couple of days, reminding those of us who notice such signs that summer was over and autumn was on the way, if not already with us.