Monday, December 15, 2008


That time we longed for on a sweltering August afternoon is here. Outside the world is draped in placid white. The thermometer reads 2. The sound of passing traffic has faded into a respectfully slow cadence. And we wait eagerly for morning light.

Winter has always been a time for reflection. For learning to live with the bare bones of necessity, Christmas shopping aside. This year, the essence of winter lives among us more than any year in my memory.

Stripped to its black and white essentials, the landscape of central Oregon is stark. Sagebrush is skeletal. Rabbitbrush has shed its leaves. Barren stalks of bunchgrass poke above the scant snow.

We are all pretty much down to our essentials this year, hanging on, hoping for spring, and watching the forecast of a long winter, an unimaginable week of freezing temperatures in Portland, a week of zero degree nights here, with dismay. The weather forecast seems no different than the economic forecast. January is so very far away.

But winter serves a purpose. Out on the grasslands the lean times strip away the non-essentials. In the pine forests of the Ochocos, pine bark beetles are dying by the millions. Jackrabbits' tracks lead from snowy bush to paltry forage and back to cover. This time of year reminds us to hold on to what is most essential and let go of the rest.

It is a lesson we can take to heart. An unanticipated gift of the season, this stripping away. This year we are giving only what we can make with our own hands (not much) , and what small donations we can provide to the local food bank. This year we are doing what is most essential. This year survival is part of the equation. This year we are more kin to the jackrabbits than we might care to admit.

Spring will come. Flowers will bloom. Grass will green up. But for now, I'm taking to heart the lesson of winter. Hold fast to what is most dear and let go of the rest.


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