To be clear, it’s not just the cold. Not just the way it makes my teeth chatter like a jig doll. Not just the way it leaves my cheeks raw and my lips feeling like sandpaper. It’s not just the cold that makes me hate winter.
And it’s not just the dark. Not just the way the sun races across the sky like it’s being chased by a rabid dog. Not just the way that every sound in the night mimics danger. It’s not just the dark that makes me hate winter.
It’s the cold and the dark and one more thing, the thing I just discovered, the third prong of the trident that spears my heart and makes me weep with the first hard freeze. That thing is the absence of color.
The autumn landscape through which I have been walking every day has been drenched in color – lilac and lavender and violet dangling from long narrow stems; buttery yellow dancing in tight bunches of asters and goldenrod; oak trees and palmetto scrubs and beautyberry bushes staining the land with every shade of green.
As November fades, though, so does the outdoor palette. The colors leak away and within a few weeks the world becomes one big Sherwin-Williams paint card of various browns. Beige and taupe and chocolate as far as the eye can see.
My personal disdain for winter, its cold and dark and colorlessness, was forefront in my mind one afternoon last week as I trudged my way up the hill toward home. The broomsedge along the road had already turned pale like wheat and I could barely see Owen, nose to the ground after a scent of some kind. What had been a watercolor wash of wildflowers just days before was now nothing more than dried weeds. Even the sky, which I had described to someone not long before as cornflower blue, seemed to have fallen into bleach.
Getting within sight of Sandhill, I happened to glance over at the equipment shelter that sits just off the edge of the road. I can’t say what drew me away from my determined pace, but I slowed and, as I did, I noticed what looked like a puddle of blue. Bright blue. Starkly blue. Deeply blue against an otherwise brown and gray landscape.
Squinting as I approached, I quickly realized the puddle was actually a pile of seeds. I knelt down for a closer look. Like tiny blue coins in a pirate’s chest, they ran through my fingers , a cloud of dust lingering in the air as they fell back to the ground. I was mesmerized.
If you spend enough time outdoors, you will eventually learn to laugh at yourself. I felt slightly stupid when Daddy explained that what I’d seen, the object of my fascination, was nothing more than cotton seeds. Ordinary cotton seeds. Ordinary – but beautiful, I felt compelled to add – cotton seeds.
I also felt more than slightly chastised. Mother Nature herself, so very much like my own mama, can be quick to discipline, quick to call for repentance, determined to correct unseemly behavior. My petulant attitude toward winter, my untrue assertions and inappropriate attitude needed correcting and, for that purpose, there was deposited in my path a pile of cotton seeds, representative of holly berries and cardinals and poinsettias, tangerines and grapefruits and Christmas lights, luminous full moons and technicolor sunsets.
In addition to learning to laugh at yourself, you will, with enough time outdoors, learn to forgive yourself. You will learn that absolution – for presuming and assuming and swiping the world with broad strokes of generalization – is free and that Mother Nature’s grudges are never held against the ignorant, only the deliberately malevolent.
And, so, I say the only thing I can: I’m sorry. I get it now. Winter is not colorless.
But it is cold and dark.