Recently I've been reading a novel set in early December along northern California's Mendocino coast. The setting is a gloomy one, with trees (including giant sequoias) dripping with rain. There is looming fog, dim, diffused light, and the general depressed air of a damp winter.
Meanwhile, people in a mansion overlooking the ocean are preparing a bright holiday celebration including chamber orchestras, bright oak-log fires, mulled wine and mead, and every sort of festal food. The contrast between the outside gloom and the bright firelight is striking.
Yesterday at the High Mountain Lodge, a bitter cold spell settled in, and I awoke early this morning before dawn to go over and check the pipes and the heating situation in the guest lodge. I was thinking about that novel. It was dark as pitch. The cold was bone chilling, and the snow that had fallen overnight actually squeaked when I walked on it.
We are tumbling toward the shortest and darkest day of the year in just a few weeks but aren't even there yet. I anxiously went through all our guest rooms, running hot water down every drain to make sure that the sewer line wouldn't freeze up. I know, I know--other cold places in the country worry about their pipes freezing; up here, we get anxious when the sewer ices up. They have even invented a machine to thaw out a sewer line. It's a cross between a power washer and a roto-rooter. You hook it up to your hot water tank....
But I digress.
After checking all the rooms for warmth, and making sure the utility chase between the first and second floor of the lodge was warm, with no icy blasts chilling the pipes, I squeaked my way back to the dining lodge and our owner's quarters, took a shower, and got dressed for the day.
When I next went outside the sun was up, and it smacked me in the face and dazzled me. The sky was so dark blue it was almost purple, and the snow on the mountains and down in the pasture was so amazingly bright that I thought of a 16th century poet's made-up word, "glistering," a combination of "glistening" and "blistering."
Of course, the temperature was nine below, but the sunlight was brighter and sharper than the warmest Caribbean beach.
So much for gloomy northern California contrasts between the indoors and outside. I guess you could call Colorado winters "postmodern" when it comes to the usual traditional and literary ideas of our darker months. A hundred years ago, when Christina Rosetti wrote, "In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone," she accurately described the condition of the earth and water. But there's nothing bleak about a Colorado winter.
Yes, we will have crackling fires in the fireplaces at the High Mountain Lodge this winter. Yes, we will have bright celebrations with good food and drink. There may be some overcast days, and the wind can blow like the Big Bad Wolf.
But outside the Lodge rooms and away from the crackling fires, there is a world of exquisite winter beauty. I hope you are lucky enough to experience it; it would be really cool if you experienced it with us (that's a shameless marketing plug).
Julie and I hope to see you this not-so-bleak winter.