ESSAY – MARCH 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography Darren Setlow “Cig Harvey in Rockport
Winter is waiting. Winter is beds piled high with thick comforters and quiet nights under rooftops bowed by blankets of snow. It is reading a book by the fading light of a Sunday afternoon. It is staring out the window at unbroken plains of whiteness, before turning to the calendar on the refrigerator and checking off each day of February with a heavy black X.
“Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night”
from A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost
Winter is waiting.
In Maine, the waning days of March grow tense as our bodies ache for sun and warmth. We have been hunkered down too long, winter-survivalists ever hopeful for the promise of mud and crocuses by the month’s end.
When I was younger, winter always meant solitude in my world. During the coldest months of the year, my family would often be confined within the walls of our ancient farmhouse. Still, winter felt like a time when no one was around. We were together, but we were alone. We must have made our stands against the short, gray days in separate rooms of the house, or perhaps we were too stricken by the cold to bother interacting. I cannot recall now which it was. Why is that?
Too young to tag along with my older brother and his buddies, I spent days toiling in the featureless landscape for as long as I could stand the bitter temperatures. I would lose myself among the deepest snow banks I could find, constructing elaborate forts in which I would indulge my obsession with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The pristine swales of snow became canvases for my imagination. In a doomed ritual so hypnotically alluring that I was unable to resist, I reenacted the Rebel Alliance’s defense of their snow base on the icy planet of Hoth. And every time, as in the film, the crushing blow of Darth Vader and his Imperial snowtroopers defeated me. My intergalactic fantasies seem appropriate in hindsight, as there were days during my childhood when I felt as though I was from another planet.
If the winter had been particularly unrelenting and the snow became deep enough, I abandoned the snow banks lining the driveway and trudged across the field behind my house. There, in the middle of an expanse of white, I would dig a hole. I’d make a circle in the snow and build a wall broken only by a small opening wide enough for me to slip through.
Out in the field, I felt far away from my house and the things that happened within its flimsy walls. There were bright days, of course, when the snow around me was bleach-white and blinding, when the shadows of leafless trees seemed to stretch on without end. But mostly I remember the darker days, the stormy days when the snow looked blue or purplish in the muted light. In my hole, I could hear no sounds but those stirred up by the wind: the occasional groan of a tree or the quiet chatter of ice skittering across the snow’s crusty surface. I would lie there on my back and listen as the coldness of the ground pushed its way into my thin snowsuit and spread through my bony shoulder blades. I can remember closing my eyes and feeling the snow falling onto my face from the cloud-smudged sky above, baptizing me in hope.
And because I craved the messy warmth of companionship as much as I hungered for the pristine cold of solitude, I would close my eyes tighter and imagine that it was spring already: tiny birds scratching together tiny nests, slender green shoots breaking the damp, musty dirt.
I would let myself imagine that the waiting was over.