Winter Malcontents

The spare monochrome beauty of a winter morn

NOW I remember. Until this week, I only thought winter is not so bad. And relatively speaking, we have sissy winters here. But even so, they come with their own share of hurdles, aggravations and risks.

VDOT has not seen fit in several years to actually let us benefit from the 18” culvert that would in a better world carry the spring water UNDER the road instead of across it. They have chosen instead to let the intake silt in not just a little bit, and then route the water across the road through a trench dug in three minutes with a maddock. What was a 3” trough when Bubba laid it out is now a 8” deep, 15” wide canyon, that today–and for the remainder of the winter–will be increasingly covered in ice. They politely took my call and gave this project a “work order”–a misnomer with regard to both words in the phrase.

We leave the water dripping at night so the pump will come on a time or two and bring warmer water into the buried pipes.

The frost on Ann’s windshield is made of epoxy. I stand in the dark cold, futilely scraping at an invincible filigree of flat crystals, singing In the Bleak Mid-winter: Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Hey, aren’t we due for the January thaw soon?

I keep a lap blanket handy at my desk–and now, like everything else chewable in this house, it is elevated above Jabberwocky level until I need it.

Herself is, this moment, has discovered the Gym Ball over in the corner–how it bounces back at her menacingly when she pushes against it with her front paws. No, wrong, now she is sitting on the treadle of the old Singer Sewing machine in the hallway, upon which one of Ann’s flipflops sits, out of harm’s way. Dear little harm. And now (oh thank you lord) she is stretched out in front of the stove, pretending to be sweet and innocent.

The wood stove just is not quite up to the job of keeping us warm without several extra layers when it doesn’t get above 20 for the day’s high. The winds suck the heat out as fast as it beams out through the glass door of the stove. We generate much heat, though, in the splitting, carrying and stoking of wood and the all-too-frequent cleaning of ashes. I have to remind myself that it’s mainly January and February that are like this. Seven more weeks. Hunker down, and enjoy not cutting having grass to mow.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Rob, my son taught me that we find our most genuine and incisive voices exactly when we are lost, confused, tormented or passionate. In hind sight, I should have gotten the “dog book” out of me these three months of winter and on the heels of Tsuga’s passing before filling that void with a dear pup who also fills my impassioned and inspired moments with potty training and my typing fingers with tiny puncture wounds.

  2. Gandy’s in your life at this moment for a reason. It may be that you’ll need something that she offers to make that dog book complete. Would you have been prompted to write that wonderful bit about puppy breath without her?