Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winter descends

The leaves have fallen, the flowers are dead.  The air is beginning to chill.  There is a month left until the solstice, but it is already dark by 5pm and the season has switched from transcendental color to monochrome grey.

I miss the pines.  I miss snow draped over cedars.  I miss the sandy crunch of fluffy snow under skis.  I used to ski for hours through the northern forests, but there are no great forests here.  There are no cedars, no pines which were not planted by humans.  This place is grey and domesticated.  Its winters are slush and fluctuating temperatures, naked deciduous trees, gloom, dormant hibernating death.

The grey buries memories of blinding snow.  It destroys hope with an unrelenting, undulating despair.  The winters here are two months under desolate skies.  There are nothing but death and waiting seeds upon the plains.  The leaves drop, the wind blows, and the winter falls heavy with silent gloom and dormancy.

Northern Michigan winters are a far different beast.  They are not cheery, but they are bright, and the whiteness of the earth competes with a blue-grey sky and the snow triumphs.  Even at midnight, the bitter snow is bright.  It reflects the light of the moon, and absent the moon, it mirrors the stars and occasionally the aurora instead.  You can find your way through the forest by the light of the snow and still view the spectacular glory of the Milky Way above.  I used to go stargazing on the most frigid winter nights.  The sky was always clearest then.  The moon would hang resolute above the pines and the aurora would streak kaleidoscopic across the northern sky.  Twigs snapped, owls hooted, and the symphony of life accompanied the brilliant cosmos in an ambient duet.

There is no music in the winter dark in Kansas.  Life hibernates and the few sounds are urban and incidental.  It is dark so early, but the darkness is not illuminated by snow and galaxies.  Instead, city lights muffle the sky, and only the brightest stars and planets are ever visible.  The visible Milky Way is a myth, and any moving lights are planes and helicopters instead of potential UFOs.  Imagination is lost on urbanization.  The beauty of the universe is packaged and boxed and shown only in school texts and television documentaries.

It is not much improved outside of the city.  There are no lights and the stars return, but the plains are desolate and dead.  Trees are scarce, and they are skeletons instead of majestic evergreens.  They die every fall and are reborn in the spring.  Everything does here.  It snows, but not enough, and the snow is gone quickly.  Ice is far more common, and every snowfall is guaranteed to blanket a substantial layer of ice.  The naked trees are weighed down with it and often break.  Broken, tired skeletons, longing for a spring not soon to arrive.  Everything is wet and dirty, tired and depressed.  Snow becomes slush once grounded, slush becomes ice, ice melts to become mud.

I miss the water.  I miss spontaneous hockey games and skiing through the forest at night to find the perfect stargazing spot.  I miss the thick blankets of fluffy snow that last for months at a time.  I cannot go back to those memories.  There is nothing for me in Michigan anymore.  Some family to visit, but there is no future there, only past.  My present is here in Kansas, but my future is to be determined.  For now, I'm trapped between desolate winters and scorching summers.  The unending flatness is my home now and for the foreseeable future.  I gave up beauty for stability.  I do not regret it, but sometimes I miss it terribly.  Sometimes I dream of snow-painted evergreen bows but wake up to bare branches perched on a lonely stretch of ashen earth.  The northern forests call to me, but I can only listen and not respond.  The calls will remain unheeded for now as I prepare myself for another Kansas winter.

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