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More than a few times, I’ve caused an uneasy tension in elevators and hallways by proffering an unexpected opinion on the state of the stratosphere. In response to the Minnesota nice inquiry, “How about this weather — something else, huh?” I tend to reply, “I love winter. Makes me feel alive!” This regularly wins me more opprobrium than acceptance. I can’t help it: I embrace winter, with all of my heart and soul. From the first slice of chill in the striated air to the full-fledged blanketing of everything in whiteness, I am there. I am present. I am utterly and blissfully alive.

It’s simply miraculous, this seasonal flow. We delight in autumn’s prelude of brilliance and inevitable “rheostating” down of its vibrant array — first green, gold, yellow, red, burnt orange, peach, and flamingo, morphing to sienna, umber, brown, and beige. Ultimately, these turn to crisp leaves layered in piles of death, mulched into the hope of moist, unguent soil. Soon, there will be no trace of them. It is that brief season of late fall — just before the first snow — that I find most entrancing.

I don’t demand bliss. A poet in my early days, I wallow in poignancy: that odd admixture of nostalgia, longing and soft sentiment tinged with bittersweetness. Poignancy is the stuff of artists. The heart feels a kind of prehensive knowing that soon, rough blizzard winds and ice will isolate us from everything we love. Late autumn/early winter is the perfect purveyor of this state of being and complements my feelings with an emotional exactitude. The last few leaves hang by a thread to the trees; furry grey clouds make the sky’s lighting a bit brooding; and the crisp, still warm, windy air — all work together to capture the very transient nature of our existence.

The best part is that feeling of chilled imminence right before it snows: somehow we sense it coming. Snowflakes in Minnesota are so large, they often seem to drift heavily, reluctantly down from formidable skies — and for a moment, if I watch them alight on the windshield of my car, I can almost discern the familiar symmetric artistry of individual crystalline flakes as each dissolves on the glass.

It’s easier in winter to focus upon spiritual matters. It’s a great time to read the dharma. Inside, there’s a fire going and a blanket over me. I curl up with a book, or write on my laptop, or just dream. The blinds are open to a view of the Minnesota River. I begin to wonder about the precious, furry little creatures that are holed up as I am — only they are in tree trunks and burrows. I pray they find warmth and shelter. Through them, I am able to access compassion.

I like to watch the snow falling from inside my fourth-floor apartment. Beyond the balcony, a cold wind carries the onslaught of white flurries on a diagonal. I marvel at the trillions of flakes, too many to conceptualize. Somehow, they manage to settle into a soft-looking coverlet that forms gently over branches, rooftops and rolling hills. How do all of those crystalline stars manage to nestle together so impeccably? Their beauty helps me appreciate a mystery that lies somewhere beyond my imagination.

Everything looks more beautiful in winter. Bare branches speak symphonies of latticework etched against a frosty sky. Rivers and lakes shudder into three shades of deep blue, lacy layers of ice and frozen water preserved in attitudes of utter calm. Blue shadows spread across white expanses of freshly fallen snow, and there is a feeling of unmatchable stillness that fills my soul with great awe.

Winter means isolation for most people, but I treasure my solitude. Every single aspect — including an awareness of the impermanence of life — has a positive dimension to be recognized and cherished. It’s all in the way we represent ideas in our minds. We don’t have to represent death or loss as tragic. We can experience the beauty in all things willing to be with us briefly before continuing on their sacred journey. We are all traveling, as well.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., has taught literature and composition for 18 years at the university, state, tribal and community college levels. She is currently a tenured English Faculty member at Normandale Community College. Janet enjoys her role as Ceremonial Singer for Native American ceremonies, singing traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota. She made a career shift into teaching after serving nearly eight years as a defense litigator in California. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. She welcomes correspondence at JanetRedFeather77@gmail.com.

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