We've started this Saturday morning off with a nice flurry. Should it persist long enough to prove meaningful, we'll reclassify it as a genuine snow. But it has to earn that title. New snow to layer atop the older half-inch dusting that fell yesterday morning, which itself covered the six or so inches put down on Thursday.
As I look out the window toward the river, I'm quite pleased to see this nice wintery landscape. I expect January to be cold and snowy. What's an Ohio winter without a few weeks of white?
As much as I like a snow-covered landscape, I like a lively snowfall even more. Nature in flux; visible changing. Which may explain, at least in part, why I like all sorts of "weather," from pouring rain to scudding clouds. A darkening sky preparing for an oncoming storm fills me with energy. Thunderclaps and rolling booms are signals for delight. I love it when the wind stirs through the woods or sweeps across a tallgrass prairie, or sends the big waters of the Great Lakes into rollers and whitecaps that crash upon the shore. I even like it when a blizzard howls and moans like a banshee, or a searching boreal wind sobs around the eaves like a crying child.
It's the difference between active versus static—nature alive, in motion—and is part of the reason why I live by a river instead of a lake.
Of course a lot of these changing weather situations are more pleasantly observed from inside rather than smack in their midst. Though I can't think of any sort of severe weather phenomena of the Great Lakes or Midwest that I haven't been caught out in more than once, including tornados. Still, that delicious feeling of holed-up coziness simply adds to the enjoyment. We all like to feel sheltered and secure, safe—and if we can expand that to include real comfort within our refuge, then it's even better.
One of my favorite books is The Wind in the Willows. And perhaps my favorite part of that charming tale is where Mole gets lost and frightened in the Wild Wood. Ratty comes to his rescue. Then, in the dark and amid a snow storm, the two little animals wind up at Badger's front door—and are welcomed in, warmed, fed, given snug and comfortable beds for the night. It is all a scene of perfect domestic security, of homey warmth and friendly respite. The juxtaposition of the genial and civil, the dangerous and elemental. And it often seems to serve as an unconscious model for my own attitude and actions when weather and situation allow.
As the snow poured down on Thursday, we built a nice hearthfire before breakfast, and laid in wood sufficient for the day. Nothing beyond the riverbank cottage required our presence. It was milady's day off. I'd already shuffled desk work to accommodate, and the only meeting I had in town was duly canceled due to road conditions; errands we'd planned were put off until the weekend. She got out her box of turquoise and silver, onyx, jade, fire coral and carved bone, and began working on a necklace. I settled down with a small stack of books. Snow piled and blew, swirled and fluffed. The feeders did a brisk business.
Midmorning, I cut up a couple pounds of beef and started it slow-cooking. I thought beef and barley soup sounded like the ideal hearty fare for such a day. A couple of hours later I added carrots, celery, onions, garlic, split peas, and seasonings. The barley went in after that—and the pot was set to simmer until everything was done. Thirty minutes before we ate I stirred up my mother's cornbread mix, and when the oven reached 480˚, added buttermilk and poured the thick batter into the old iron skillet that once belonged to my great grandmother. A skillet well over a hundred years old; so old it's a collectible antique.
I sometimes wonder how many cakes of cornbread this old skillet has baked—gold and crisp on the outside, yellow and steamy fragrant inside when you slice it open to slip in a pat of butter. Were Grandpa and Grandma given it when they got married in the late-1800s, and Grandpa began hewing out logs for their one-room cabin in the head of Bear Branch? I know Grandma gave it to my mother upon her wedding (this and a coffee pot being their only cookware) and I know they carried it with them through their years of Dad's school teaching and travel—all the way to a cabin on the high headwaters of the Entiat River near Wenatchee, Washington, where they picked apples in addition to Dad's teaching.
Yep, that old iron skillet has been around…and a lot of those places along the way were places where winter came with a deep mantle of white. I'll just bet my latest round of cornbread wasn't the first one it has turned out onto a plate on a snowy January day.