Winter is Coming
True darkness, true silence.
The first heavy frost of the season fell in our valley earlier this week. Mattie, our 1-year-old beagle, was not thrilled about it. Neither was I. Not only did the frost bring thoughts of winter, but it also pretty much ended the vibrant colors of the surrounding mountainsides.
The two gray days that followed the frost did not improve my mood. Less than a month ago, I was sitting on a beach, baking in the glorious sunshine. My first beach vacation in over twenty years, I spent much of my time there trying to be fully present, using all my senses to embed my time there in my memory. Now, when I close my eyes and recall, I can almost feel the constant breeze, hear the constant sound of the waves, and bask in the glory of Vitamin D from the shining sun.
The ocean is never quiet, but the mountains are.
For me, winters here bring silence and darkness that I have never grown accustomed to. Before I transplanted here, I never knew true dark or true quiet. Now, with thirty years of roots grown into Gilmer County, I still find both unsettling.
But, I know they both come with benefits.
Our region has extremely low levels of light pollution. My first autumn here, living rural and alone, I lived near snowbirds who had flown for the winter — emptying their waters lines and disconnecting their dusk-to-dawn light. I stepped out of the front door of my second-floor apartment the following evening for an outing and stepped into the black.
My biggest fear of the dark relates to falling. In that black, suspended on that porch, I felt as though I was in free fall. I called my father the next morning, and he drove two hours to install a dusk-to-dawn light over my garage.
It took several years before I connected to the night sky above me. And then, one night, walking from my car into the house at dark-thirty, I looked up and saw The Milky Way in all its speckled glory, swashed across the black universe above. Just as the darkness had stopped me in my tracks years prior, the three-dimensional splendor of 200 billion stars in that cold, dark, night sky brought me to a full halt. I felt I could reach out my hand, and run my fingers through the celestial display.
Our sky draws astronomers from all over the East Coast. They gather at Calhoun County Park, where the board has spent years working to better accommodate them. There are benefits to our darkness; it allows us to better see the light.
I miss our night sky when I am away from it now. I miss the Milky Way, Orion’s Belt, the Dippers, and counting satellites that pass over. I have come to love our clear dark nights when I can contemplate our place in this universe.
I have not yet come to appreciate winter’s silence.
Spring and summer are ripe with sound, birdsong, bees buzzing, etc. Autumn has its own sound signature as well, heavy with the songs of crickets and katydid and crisped crunchy leaves underfoot.
But I know that the morning birdsong I hear today will not last much longer. I know the insect symphony of the evenings will diminish with every morning frost. Come winter, the world will fall silent, with an auditory emptiness interrupted only by taunting crows.
While the darkness here connects me to the universe, the winter silence is lonesome and empty and forces me to practice stillness, and then introspection. I find it easier to manage the concept of myself as a speck in a vast universe than to consider the personal universe within.
Winter is coming. This knowledge helps me enjoy the remaining sounds and colors of the season, even as the oranges and yellows fade to rust. The beach brings to mind a perpetual summer, but the mountains influence our souls with every seasonal change.
And as much as I dislike the pending darkness and silence, for this I still am grateful.
Through November, I like to practice 30 Days of Thanks. Some years, I post a daily statement of gratitude on social media, sometimes I just record these daily appreciations in my journal. I have found this practice helpful in preparing me for winter and enhances my experience of Thanksgiving.
Visit The Two-Lane Renaissance Online:
Student Loan Relief: 213,000 West Virginians are eligible for federal student loan forgiveness, data shows. Originally published by The Mountain State Spotlight, this piece looks at the big picture of student loan debt in West Virginia.
Keep Your ‘Elegy’: The Appalachia I Know Is Very Much Alive - Originally published on 100 Days in Appalachia, this wonderfully written piece responds to J.D. Vance and his memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.”
Input from Earthmother: Patsy Buvoltz, local homesteader and sage, prompts thoughtful discussion with her social media posts. We’re grateful she’s given us permission to share some of her more poignant thoughts. This month - “Without balance, we malfunction.”
New from the Archives:
Let’s Talk About Socks: From Judy Wolfram’s long-running column in Two-Lane Livin’, “Waste Not, Want Not.” Dealing with the inevitable single socks of life.
The Great Blue Heron: Bill Church introduced us to our natural neighbors for ten years. He spent his life as a naturalist working and serving in and around the region. We are honored to have permission from his widow to republish his work.
Interesting and well-written words elsewhere:
Two Blessings, by Jessie van Eerden
Teaching While Black, by Jacki Mulay - Spencer WV is a “conservative white town,” Ugo Onwuka says in her video. “And I’m the Blackest thing they’ve ever seen in their lives.”
Quiet Cacophany - by yours truly, accepted in K’in Literary Journal
Did You Miss?
The Five Preconditions a Renaissance Requires — Becoming one of our most popular posts.
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We have at least four new columnists coming on board in November, and I have a studio set up to do some author readings for podcasts. I have a mini e-course also in the works.
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