Steeling for Snow

I shoveled the walk
yesterday, leaving my snow
blower to rest, warming
up to its summer
hibernation. I settled
on the old fashioned scrape
of metal against concrete –
content with the push and pull
of these two, their force
felt in the vibration of
the wooden handle,
occupying my hands.

This steel shovel, so much heavier than its burden,
is a solid reminder of the days before plastic
when we lived a little closer to the earth.

The snow blower was
bought to hedge my
bets against heart attacks
and such. It is much
appreciated and yet some
days the nearly silent to and fro
of shovel sits well with
the serene snow about to go –
even though it only just arrived,
from far too far for me to
put it back from whence
it came.

Pining for a Little Snow

I am hoping to change the background photograph on stillvoicing. I try to bring in a new image for each season, something I have shot recently. Often the photograph is from our neighbourhood, or an image from my walk home from work. I especially aim to reflect the season, which has been a bit vexing this year. Winter has been coming in fits and starts. There has been a bit of snow, but not enough has stuck around for long enough to get a decent photo. We have been slipping, too frequently, into that kind of weather one expects in March, my least favourite month. But during my walk to church this morning, the skies opened for a time, and down floated opulent feather like flakes. I was able to make out single snowflakes a few paces in front of me, and so in a strange sort of way, they drew attention to the space between them. For a time, I wasn’t walking down the street so much as through air punctuated with miniature clouds. It was nice to feel winter.

And even though the snow hasn’t consistently abetted my sense of the season, the sun has been of aid. We still have rather short days, although I am already able to note their gradual lengthening. All the same, it is dark enough after supper to light some candles around the house. I find this to be a ritual that reframes the evening, allowing it to proceed under that gentle illumination that speaks a particular kind of hope: soft, quiet, and calming. This, it seems to me, can be the gift of winter: an invitation to be away even while at home.

Last Friday, my wife and I went out for a movie, and upon returning our eldest and her friend popped by for coffee, wondering whether the power had been out earlier that evening in our part of town. We did not return to any flashing lights, so it seems that this was not the case. They reported that it went out where they were and it was dark long enough to break out the candles. They, too, noted something acutely beautiful about a time without power. A candled evening, rather like a snow day, unravels our overly calendared agendas; these forced sabbaticals settle our souls into the realization that we are not in charge.

In the midst of a course I co-taught with a Jewish scholar last semester, on the book of Exodus, we spoke about the Sabbath. While he referenced his regular observance of a day at rest, I relayed my utter failure. He noted that keeping Sabbath is difficult without communal support. It is hard work not to work without spiritual and cultural infrastructures. That struck me as true, and one of our students spoke of her commitment to 24 hours without home-work, etc. over the last few years, noting what I knew to be true: working less sometimes allows us to get more done. So Sabbath is something I have been working toward over the last little while. It is challenging – especially when deadlines loom and I am tempted to do just a little more – but every now and then the power’s failure shuts down computers, or the snow slows the commute, and I am reminded that I need to slow down, we all need to slow down: for the good of our bodies and souls, our planet, and simply to make some time for joy.

I am well aware that many people are quite happy with our relatively snow-free winter. Some would rather be rid of winter altogether, but I am reminded of how my parents and their generation used to speak of winter in terms that brought hibernation to mind. And while we cannot recreate their culture, which made possible something of a Sabbath season, perhaps there is another way into the best of that that mindset. It just might be that a weekly 24 hour break is a good start. Wish me luck.

Snowing Down

Yesterday my wife announced “ Tomorrow we’re going to buy a snow blower.”

Small things can be bigger than they first appear, and something the size of a snow blower portends even more significant changes than one might imagine. This is clear from the rationale attending this pronouncement: “We aren’t getting any younger.” Of course, this has been true for quite a few years; and so this particular proclamation yesterday meant something more than it has before.

All week long I’ve been whining about a sore shoulder. We have had a few weeks of trying weather. For those familiar with south-western Ontario, this will not come as news. The snow we’ve received over the last few weeks has been unusually dense. Not much air, if any, is found between the needles of the ‘flakes’ in my yard. Shoveling has become a bit more onerous.

I should mention that this isn’t the first time the idea of a snow blower has been broached. Two years ago we had a winter with astounding amounts of snow, and I suggested we might buy a snow blower for my fiftieth birthday, which came and went during a green winter. This year has been a bit different – although most certainly not our worst. Still, my wife sees me shoveling and, I suspect, is mindful of my family’s heart history. A snow blower is as much a preventative caution as a prescriptive cure for the odd ache.

I appreciate my wife’s concern for my health, and suspect that a snow blower might not be a bad idea at all. This, not only because it will hopefully relieve my shoulder of its pain and my wife of my complaints, but also because it will serve as a regular reminder that this journey from cradle to grave has important markers that invite me , invite you to stop and take stock of where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. This is never a bad thing.

So, today in church, I will take a moment to give thanks for the many years that have been a rich gift to me. I will take a moment to savor being beside someone whose life intersected mine at just the right time. I will take a moment to ponder how I can live fruitfully into future moments fully alive in each day given me. I hope your day gives you occasion to do what you need to do to pause, to ponder and to anticipate the gifts of life and the gift of new life.

Creek’s Side in December

Slipping over pebbled bed
liquid lauds.
With a patter perceived only by ears of faith
snow hymns.
Pine needles point beyond trunks true
to truth, and banks,
oh banks,
so snowy soft they escape description
describe mercy.
I can see my breath even while
breathless
because mine in this moment is Breath,
hallowed here at
creek’s side in December.