By Sharon Lynch
“Sometimes at night, I just sniff the air.” Hearing this, Monika knew she needed to know more. She and Carol were making their way along the road that wound past their houses and over the hill. It was a slushy walk under overcast skies, and Monika hoped the exercise would improve her mood.
She had a bad case of the January “blahs.” And she knew there was still February to get through before there would be even a hint of respite from her least-favourite time of year.
Carol, on the other hand, was up-beat, striding along purposefully at a brisk pace while Monika had to push herself to keep up. Her mood was dragging her legs as well as her heart. Every winter, Monika experienced this same listlessness, a vague kind of aimless negativity. It was the season. The darkness.
The cold. The swings between wind, slush and ice, with a helping of too much snow and too little sun.
Some days it seemed interminable, although her head reminded her winter was really only a couple of months long, and not the twelve it sometimes felt like.
As the two walked, they chatted about friends they knew, and how the world was going to hell in a hand basket. Well almost, noted Carol. Actually, she said there were still aspects of this time of year that she appreciated and enjoyed. “Like the night air?” queried Monika, wondering if Carol was taking some kind of special medication.
Then Carol pointed to the doe and two yearlings poised statue-still by a stand of cedars. The deer’s faces were thick with winter coats as they turned their heads to watch the human animals passing by. Monika loved seeing animals outdoors, and the sight gave her a little lift. In the summer much was often hidden by the foliage that surrounded them but in winter, she was able to see right into the bush.
The cedars looked black against the overcast sky, and Monika knew there were probably chickadees nestled in amongst all those fragrant branches. Her friend Jim was always giving her bits of information about the natural world that surrounded them. It might look dead or asleep in winter, but she knew there was still plenty of life out there.
The slushy snow grabbed a little at their feet as they walked past the old farmhouse, now partly collapsed.
Carol remarked how burdensome winter must have been for the early settlers, no air-tight wood stoves or electric lights for reading on the dark evenings.
This reminded Monika that when she got home, her own stove would need another log. She had a plentiful supply of firewood to get her through the season. Unlike some folks, she reminded herself.
Unexpectedly, the sun slid out from behind the clouds, and the snowy world was instantly transformed.
Black branches stood out against all the white and the sparkle of snow and sun brought a smile to both their faces. Monika could feel her mood shifting a bit. While she wasn’t about to burst into joyous song, she realized there was much in her life she should never take for granted.
Then she asked Carol what she had meant about sniffing the night air. The reply surprised her. Carol said that whenever she felt confined or restless at this time of year, she opened her bedroom window a few inches, put her face down to the opening, and breathed in the fresh night air. It had a different smell and texture in the winter, she noted, and it made her think of all the wonderful things about where she lived.
No exhaust fumes, car horns or the hum of machines big and small that she always heard in the city.
Sometimes an owl would call from behind the house but mostly there was silence. Carol said if she was having a difficult day, all she had to do was open her window at night, and sniff. That seemed to put things into proper perspective.