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Todd R. Nelson is a writer in Penobscot.
The Christmas decorations have been down for a while now — a melancholy ritual, reclaiming the living room — and the dooryard looks forlorn minus the glowing snow globe inflated by a fan. The evergreen garland on the mantel is brittle and sere. It’s gotta go too. Onto the burn pile it goes. Our Christmas tree has been out back on the leach field for a while, attracting woodland foragers.
Forget the customary presentation of the groundhog and his shadow test on Feb. 2. Now, it’s all about the pantry, literal and figurative.
It’s about whether we will have enough. We now pivot on the seasonal continental divide. Looking down the western slope, we wonder if we have sufficient resources to reach the coast of spring. There’ll be no more harvesting. Did you stockpile sufficient firewood? Is there enough hay in the barn for the livestock? The moment is about anticipation, and about our concept of “enough.” And hay.
We are halfway. Wood and hay are the traditional benchmarks of a former time: practical, agrarian, and fundamental to the survival of farmer and livestock in the northern hemisphere. Wood and hay are harvested and stored in advance of the season of need. However, even we non-farmers should assess the pantry. Have we stored fuel enough to keep warm and fed through winter’s second act? How’s that gauge on the oil tank looking, down in the basement, to say nothing of this week’s price of No. 2 fuel oil? What other kinds of fuel and food are we drawing down?
No, my wood stove will not go hungry. Yes, half the wood box is empty. However, half is full. Looks like the mice will also have enough. They’re enjoying their condo life mid-level amidst my logs, as revealed by their half-gnawed acorns, discovered as I bring wood indoors. Their nests of shredded grass must also hold fast ‘til spring. They’re bunkering in the hood of my Subaru as well, acorns rolling out as I check the windshield wiper fluid.
My imaginary horses and cows graze comfortably on food for thought. There’s always enough. They’re more than well fed. But I do take inventory of my actual larder and last summer’s hand-picked frozen blueberries. Am I sufficiently stocked to make it to ice-out, or whatever you use as the boundary of winter and starting line of incoming spring, aside from calendar and celestial forces?
Blueberries are my solar energy of choice, a concentrated nugget of August sunny days preserved in jars or freezer bags, like amethysts in amber, awaiting measured doling of cold weather comfort in pies, pancakes and muffins. By the wood stove, naturally. Enough? Yet to be determined. One critter’s acorn stash is another’s blueberries is another’s hay.
And how long will the leftover turkey soup and chili from Thanksgiving last? Not too much farther, hopefully.
These are just the literal provisions. Consider the figurative pantry we’re building up and spending down, as we inhabit the season of foresight and hindsight — and test both. We look backward toward supply, and forward toward use, an equation that must balance. The solution is simply enough.
Winter draws us inside, the season with sharp lines of demarcation between inner and outer; the season of torpor and hibernation and contemplative restoration; of longing and observing, watching that frozen outer landscape for signs of the wane of cold and snow; of ice-out; of buds and returning songbirds. A neighbor has already tried forcing forsythia. We hunger for blooms.
So, we are halfway through the work of our hibernation, watching our inner, emotional landscape. While keeping warm, and sharing all that hay, literal or figurative, with our “livestock,” we’ve been doing something restorative. What are the wood and blueberries of our inner lives? To each his own. A cord or two of books will do for me. One man’s wood pile is another’s neglected reading pile.
Yes, spring and summer will come in good time — it’s a certainty thanks to those celestial mechanics —and the resumption of wood and hay harvesting and stockpiling for next winter’s supplies. The sun is on its way back north where it will warm the blueberry barrens, too, and the next annual ring on our next Christmas tree. But for now, we throw another log on the fire and mix another batch of muffins; sip tea with satisfaction and longing; and count the added minutes of sunlight this week. The reading pile is casting a long shadow.