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  • Writer's picturecoffeeandwoodsmoke

reflections on winter

In late October, I returned to Montana after a rather lengthy absence. I returned in time to see the last of the fall colors, ochers and golds deepening into late-autumn glory. I returned, and soon it snowed.

And it snowed.

And it snowed.

I stood one evening watching out the window as thick flakes softly sank beneath the yellow cone of light offered by the corner streetlight. The snow fell as peace descending from the sky. I stood watching, and I felt its peace. I felt at peace.


I am a child of the Midwestern hardwood forest. As I grew from tot through teen, the seasons turned and cycled and made their way into my blood. Autumn sinks into winter and from that dark and quiet emerges life and spring, and then, sun’s penetrating warmth and deep green glory. These four seasons anchor me and I am rooted in them.

I need winter. Especially this year. A winter like those of my childhood, with snow and quiet and the peace, the space, they yield. I’ve been thinking about this need, reflecting on it because I hightailed it out of my hometown with my diploma in one hand and a ticket to the desert southwest—a land without winter as I knew it—in the other. I’ve lived in the tropics and in places where the seasons’ distinctions were softer—even inverted. And yet I’ve made my way back to this place where winters are hard and cold. I am craving the very season I once fled.


I need winter’s stillness, its permission to slow down and rest. Its space to allow all that is, to be. To allow what will be, to evolve. To exist in a place where I can ground myself in the seasons’ rhythms; where they turn in their cycle even if everything else around me appears to be swirling in the unpredictability of chaos. To trust something when I find things hard to trust.


In winter everything is laid bare. The maple in front of my house undressed itself of leaves and revealed, nestled among its branches, a tightly woven teacup nest. I hadn’t known it was there, this small refuge for a family of birds. It makes me happy to know that nature holds secrets—even when they are right under our noses.

The birds themselves seem more visible this time of year: the usual complement of magpies and crows, the flocks of house sparrows.  The tiny chickadee serenading the sky, an echo returning to the caller from a distant treetop.  The hairy woodpecker making its way slowly up the height of a boulevard shade tree, the bald eagle soaring between substantial wingbeats.

A cottontail bounding to the shelter of a shed.

Delicate deer tracks tracing linear patterns in the snow.

I’ve been taking longs walks in this season of winter. The sharp crack of cold air against nostril, cheeks stinging and streaked with cold-induced tears, frost clouds of breath. Watered sunlight filters through fingers of slate grey cloud across a sky heavy with woodsmoke. Reeds and cattails bend and break, punctuating the crust of snow. Winds that sound an outsized locomotive roar through creekside cottonwoods sending brown leaves scudding and snow swirling from the ground like spindrift. Charcoal sketches of trees endlessly branch against the apricot wash of sunset in the western sky.

And then I rest. And sometimes, it snows.


Oatmeal Harvest Cookies Makes 18 cookies

And when it snows, sometimes I bake.  I wish I could recall where I first came across a version of this recipe some 20 years ago.  I jotted it down in a composition notebook and tried converting to a gluten-free version.  The result is lacy and crispy and sweet.

½ C canola oil 1 C brown sugar 1 egg 1 T water ¾ C all-purpose (gluten-free) flour 1 C rolled (gluten-free) oats ½ C unsweetened shredded coconut ½ C sunflower seeds ½ C dried cranberries ½ t salt ½ t baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

  3. In a large bowl, add oil, sugar, egg, and water. Stir until well combined.

  4. In a medium bowl, add remaining ingredients and stir until well mixed.

  5. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir until well combined.

  6. Put by heaping tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets.

  7. Bake for ~15 minutes, until edges have crisped and cookies are golden.

  8. Cool on baking sheets.

  9. Enjoy!


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