This is a reworking of a Gimbling in the Wabe I wrote in back in 2013, but it felt especially relevant today as the temperature here took a nose dive. The Mighty Belle and I still made it out to the Lake of the Isles, though! I hope you’ll allow me a bit of indulgence in tweaking rather than creating this week… sometimes that just seems like the best path to follow.
It’s February up here in Minnesota, which means that it’s cold. It’s almost always cold in Minnesota in February – if it’s not, there’s something wrong. Most of us up here don’t mind the cold; we endure it, some of us embrace it, most of us hold it up like a badge of honor. One thing is certain – it gives perspective.
It also gives us a reason to curl up with a good book. Summertime is a time for activity, and doing things, getting things done. We open up, we strip down to basics (sometimes literally!), we get out there, we move and we shake and we do. But wintertime – ah, now that’s a time for curling up, for retreating into ourselves, for hands wrapped around steaming hot mugs of cocoa, and polar fleece and crystal gossamer on windows. Oh, and if you have one, wintertime allows for that slice of divine that is a fireplace, with the warmth of the crackling flames, the smell of wood burning and a sense of contentment that cannot be duplicated in any other way. Yes, winter activities are fun, and there’s nothing like the exhilaration that comes from defying the cold, but in the end we all wrap that shawl over our shoulders or exchange that second set of socks for fleecy slippers, slip into the well worn sweatshirt that fits just right, or throw on that flannel anything and we snuggle. We snuggle against each other or into ourselves, as we read.
Earlier today I took my dog for a romp on a frozen lake in the heart of the city. Outside it was heavy and grey and cloudy, threatening snow; in fact, the flakes started falling pretty thickly as we were trekking across the deeply frozen water. There was already a layer of old snow on top of the ice, so I walked easily; Belle, however, would occasionally lose traction and slide as she gamboled around. The sounds of the city were hushed and distant for us far out on the lake; tracks left behind by skiers and ice skaters criss-crossed our path but at this time of day we were alone on the expanse of white. It was easy to imagine existing in our own little world of swirling flakes and powdery footing and the flush of cold on my cheeks and the tips of my fingers. I was meditative but Belle was energized, and the red of her coat flashed fantastic against the whites and greys and darks of the landscape as she cavorted and rolled and snuffed and slid as only young dogs can do.
Upon returning home, I brewed a fresh pot of coffee while Belle cleaned the recalcitrant snow that remained stubbornly lodged between her toes. I knew what was next on my agenda, and no, it had nothing to do with last night’s dinner dishes that had been rinsed but were still piled in the kitchen sink, nor the round of online banking and bill paying that shouldn’t be put off until tomorrow. But those things could wait a bit. Now, while my cheeks were still tingling and my glasses were still clouding up from the warmth of my house, now it was time to read.
Curling up in “my” chair (a wide-armed, deep seated monstrosity known as “Mom’s Throne” because it’s quite imposing looking, and I’m the only one that sits there), with my coffee within arm’s reach and all three critters curled up on their respective couch or chair cushions, I opened up my book-of-the-moment, a touching novel by Minneapolis native Peter Geye entitled The Lighthouse Road (Unbridled Books, published October 2, 2012) and disappeared into its pages. Set in Gunflint, Minnesota (now a popular resort area on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian border) between 1895 and 1937, it follows the story of Norwegian immigrant Thea Eide, her young son Odd Einer Eide, and the woman who is the fragile thread that spans between them both. It’s a lovely book, one I heartily recommend, but to be honest, were it not due back at the library tomorrow, it probably would not have been my book of choice to read after coming off a chilly morning’s outing.
If I had had my druthers, I probably would have picked a book that wasn’t as contingent on the cold and of being at the mercy of winter as The Lighthouse Road is. Too much of a good thing, don’tcha know? And although no one in Peter Geye’s book falls victim to the harsh climate (as is way too often the case with books set in the North Country), the weather still vitally impacts the lives of the characters that come to life in the novel’s pages, in a way to which I could heartily relate (even while sitting in my comfortable chair in my toasty house drinking my accessible hot beverage of choice).
No, if I had free rein, I probably would have picked something else, something not quite as akin to what I had just walked in from. That made me wonder – if I was free from obligation (ah, and what lovely obligation it is!) or out from under the strictures of timing – what would I read? What would be a perfect book to sink into on a quiet winter’s afternoon? What would take me from a chilly Minnesota day, transport me elsewhere, then safely bring me back again in time to get dinner on the table? Undoubtedly, many, many books would adequately do this… but were there books out there that would be just perfect?
And yes, I came up with what, for me, would be the perfect book – Margaret Mitchell’s classic tale of the antebellum South, Gone With the Wind. The hot Georgia sun – whether beating down on a festive plantation barbeque with young ladies floating like butterflies across wide, green verandas, on sweltering rows of cotton ripe for the picking, stifling the young, energetic growing city of Atlanta, or adding to the squalor and misery of those left in the dust of a retreating army – is as much a player in the story as it is the setting for the most marvelous of imaginings. There is no touch of winter in these pages, just a balmy chill or a sudden coolness to the air when desires and plans are thwarted. Storms may rage and bring despair to the soul and spirit; heat may be brutal and debilitating, but these do not whisk away breath or steal life. Other factors contribute to that, instead.
Completely different from my currently reality – but a story I could easily lose myself in. Again.
Ah, but this day I’ve spent too much time in my musing and my writing. The actual winter light coming in through the picture window is dimming to the point where I’ll need to rouse soon myself and turn on some lights, which means that just as soon dinner plans will come into play. Before too long I’ll no longer be able to ignore those dishes and that other busywork, and will have to start preparing the evening meal, bringing my time for reading and writing to an end, at least for now.
First, though… it feels a little chilly here. I think I’ll go throw on another pair of socks. Then one more chapter of The Lighthouse Road. One more chapter will be just right. Or two. Two will be even better.