Soundtrack in my head: Cocteau Twins, “Lazy Calm”
This morning I stepped outside on my way to work and discovered that there was a light coat of snow covering everything and it lifted my spirits more than a little bit.
I think about the aspects of winter that bring me down, and I notice an interesting pattern. I don’t like how snow gets dirty and gray and makes the outdoors look yucky. I don’t like how salt stains my boots and the hardwood floors. I don’t like the huge pile of snow pushed by the plows, making the snow look like piles of rocks and gravel at a construction site. I’ve had some harrowing experiences driving on snow and ice. I never was a fan of shoveling out my car when I owned a car, or scraping the ice off the windshield. And while I’ve never had to deal with airport delays, a co-worker was recently stuck in Detroit for two days trying to get home from the holidays.
The common thread through all of these things is that it’s not so much the winter weather that’s the issue. The issue seems to be how winter weather interacts with modern society. Snow wouldn’t require salt trucks and plowing if we didn’t have cars. It’s the cars and other air pollutants that make the snow an ugly gray. Cars and airplanes are recent developments, as far as human history and earth history go. And both of those modes of transportation cause problems for the environment..
I remember last winter, I took the Southwest Chief Amtrak train from Chicago to Albuquerque and back. It took longer, but it was a less stressful way to travel. At that time, Denver was still digging out from unbelievable amounts of snow, snarling air traffic right during the holidays, and there were several people on my train who boarded because they’d gotten sick of the airport delays. The train got through just fine–the utility poles seemed “shorter” in southern Colorado with what was probably two feet of snow on the ground, but it didn’t slow the train down one bit. And, faced with blizzard conditions on my way back from Albuquerque, the train merely re-routed itself through Texas and Oklahoma.
One of the best train rides I ever took was on the Lakeshore Limited going from Chicago to New York, but hugging the Great Lakes and then going through upstate New York. I had two seats to myself and I was able to stretch out. I slept very soundly, and with my head leaning against the window, the very first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a scene that resembled this:
What a way to wake up.
It makes me think that maybe there is no coincidence here. Maybe Nature is telling us to slow down–we move too fast. The Amish seemed to be enjoying the ride on my train. Many cultures have often considered winter to be a time for quiet reflection. If cars, roads, and airplanes are a problem, perhaps the problem is not with winter, but with cars, roads, and airplanes. Not that we are in a position where we can instantly abandon them, of course. But maybe in the ugly grey-sooted snow and in the salt-stained sidewalks, maybe we are seeing a reflection of ourselves.
In any case, I felt a sense of calm as I looked out at the fresh coat of snow, covering up the grey and grime. I began to think that maybe I’d like winter more if I lived in the country instead of the city. Hard to say. But I also realized that a fresh dusting of snow, in some ways, reminds me of God’s grace–that even in the coldest and barren places, God still provides us with beauty if we look for it.
It’s something to think about, at least.