Winter Notes

Stream and trees in snow

A stream in winter

In the evening when it’s dark and the stars shine bright, I like to stand by an open window and listen and breathe and look into the night. Winter air can be odorless. Or a pocket of scent might startle me, usually when walking through the woods. It could be the mild skunk-like musk of a fox or the spice from sun-warmed grasses poking up through the snow. Wind through the many pine trees is the predominate sound. This surprises me because from the moment I moved from the city to the middle of nowhere last summer, I was engulfed by cricket chirps and bird song and frog peeps and owl hoots filling every hour. They are starting up again as spring inches closer. Chickadees call out “hey, sweetie!” looking for a mate. Other, unseen, birds sing from the hemlocks.

I’m looking forward to the cycle that will bring the summer sounds back, but for now I’m loving the quiet. I’ll stop on my walk to listen, and if the air is still, the only thing I’ll hear is a soft hum inside my ears. Probably a sign I’m losing my hearing. I wish I were younger and could really hear silence, odd as that may seem.

I spent my childhood in a suburb, ratting around in old farm fields (that became housing developments) and woods (that also became housing developments), getting pine sap on my hands, and scraping my knees. My mother urged me to wear shorts because my knee would heal but a pant leg wouldn’t.

We had pheasants until houses replaced the fields with lawns. There were no coyotes back then, or bears. Suburban wildlife that I saw consisted of squirrels and birds. And neighborhood cats and dogs in the days before leash laws.

I spent my adulthood living in a one city or another in and around Boston. I washed diesel soot off my windows and TV and worried how much accumulated in my lungs. I withstood a daily aural assault of horns, sirens, shouts, car crashes, and firecrackers. If I was awake at 3 a.m., I might hear something akin to silence, maybe just the dull drone of trucks on the highway a couple miles away. But then a jet would begin its descent to Logan Airport, a red eye approaching from a distant hub.

As time passed, wildlife returned, even to the city. Hawks fed on pigeons; skunks and raccoons ambled through my yard; turkeys and coyotes skittered on the margins. But when the closest green space was a cemetery, I knew I was out of place. Motorcycles, cars booming bass, smoky fire pits, dog-shit covered sidewalks. I didn’t grasp the level of the stress until I left.

From the city, a hike in real woods meant at least a 30-minute drive. An hour and a half to get out to central Mass. and the woods around the Quabbin Reservoir, a vast, almost-wilderness. It could take me 20 to 30 minutes in the woods to shed my “city skin” and then I’d tense up on the drive home as roads became more congested.

Now I’ll get to spend some unforeseen amount of time in a rural town, surrounded by woods and streams and ponds and wildlife. Now I can feel the stress of the city lessen as I approach home, not as I leave home. I hope I will be here for the rest of my life, and I hope it will be longer than the time I spent in cities, but there’s no way to know. I could live one year more or forty.

However much time I have here, I’m grateful for it and want to revel in every moment. It amuses me when locals marvel that I moved from the city.

“Some folks can’t stand the quiet,” I was warned. Not me. I’m loving it.

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2 comments

  1. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever smelled skunk cabbage. Or maybe I have and just not known it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Lovely, as always. When you got to the skunk-like musk I thought for an instant that you might, impossible as it seems, have some skunk cabbage poking through the snow. Skunk cabbage comes early, but not that early. As long as you don’t step on it, those green-and-sometimes-purple-streaked hood-like shapes are really quite beautiful, or maybe it’s just that they’re definite signals of spring.

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