Every winter Denver loses the immense golden glory of autumn. The light changes, the angles shift, to a barren colorlessness. The bark of trees becomes grey, the ground itself is grey. This is often contrasted with the intensely electric-blue skies found only in the West (but incomparable to all of the Mediterranean, in my humble view), but the contrast itself often only adds to the image of austere emptiness.
There is, of course, great beauty in austere emptiness. If one looks, say while walking slowly in the park at dusk or on a chilled mid-afternoon, one senses the dignity and self-containment of small living things in what appears to be a landscape of lifelessness. I believe this makes winter a time for observation, both of the world around us and the world within.
I think of Emily Dickinson writing out her genius in the blinding white January days of Amherst; she was, I imagine, cold a lot, her huge wide eyes taking in every part of the snow, the leafless trees, the small colorful snow birds as she looked up from her precious work. She could not, I think, have written poems of such pared down perfection in the lush gardens of California. Or perhaps this is all a silly romanticism: genius is genius, and probably can’t be stopped by environment.
But it is changed. Our minds, our bodies, our very metabolisms, react in myriad ways to the alternating seasons. I felt this acutely when I traveled recently, mid-winter, to the gorgeous humid ocean-side jungle of the Yucatan. This is certainly my more “natural” environment; I felt like a great sea bird who had finally navigated its way home.
But until I can nest in such a place permanently, I will look, observe, and find the interest, the loveliness, the strangeness, of whatever surrounds me. Like these grey-brown days of winter and their blue-blue sunsets.
Crossing the river. White banks of snow.
Wires stark against an early sunset
Trees at dusk; their silhouette like the fingers of a phantom
Winter sunsets. The sky domed pink, white, orange over darkening earth.
A butterfly cloud, reminding us that transformation occurs every moment, whether in the ethereal layers of a dissipating damp cloud or in the unconscious cells of our ever-changing bodies…..
Winter is a cocoon. Except, as the butterfly cloud reminds us, when it’s not: Being emerges even in the harshest places. Inextinguishable.