In snatches of time, I’ve been reading Verlyn Klinkenborg’s, “The Rural Life.”
I take the book down from a shelf every January and soak up Klinkenborg’s words, sheer poetry on the beauty of the ordinary, a litany of his life spent on a farm in upstate New York.
“There is a familiar end-of-year thaw to body and spirit,” he writes. “Other seasons come abruptly but ask so little when they do. Winter is the only one that has to be relearned.”
When a good neighbor left two faucet covers on our back porch before temperatures dropped to below freezing, we were reminded January exacts a price of vigilance. “Pay attention,” Mother Nature warns, “or pipes will burst.”
“Winter storms,” Verlyn Klinkenborg writes,” bring in greatest abundance a muffled hush, the sound of doing nothing.”
Even without snow, bitter cold days find us watching from our windows to see if cars are sliding on ice, if the familiar sight of a school bus in the neighborhood has been temporarily withdrawn, side streets deemed too risky for ferrying bundled-up children.
There are house-bound days when winter feels like a fever dream. Even with resolutions to purge closets and revamp a tangled pantry, I go through the motions, distracted. I re-arrange cans of pumpkin, pureed, and three varieties of baking chocolate, wondering what I intended for them.
For years, I read Klinkenborg’s seasonal words at the bottom of the editorial page of a big-city newspaper. No more than six paragraphs, his work was a foil to serious talking points and opinions anchoring the newsprint above “The Rural Life.”
His essays were not about shaking the tree of politics or government reforms, the scandals besetting those with recognizable names or the misuse of power, but were celebrations of small moments on a farm, shoveling snow, wrestling hay bales for horses and planting potatoes.
As January began, Klinkenborg wrote his final column after 16 years, explaining it seemed “a good season to leave with a long winter ahead.”
His lesson learned, he wrote, was “the sure knowledge there was always something worth noticing and that there were nearly always words to suit it.”
Readers responded, one observing, sadly, how “The Rural Life” captured a world “very difficult for most of us to locate.” For city folk, hurrying to catch commuter trains and spending days in offices in skyscrapers, time to reflect on remnants of a summer row of corn or chopping ice in a horse tank were reflections needing a guide who lived a country life.
Still, the longing to find a measure of quiet near open fields and sunrises, where dogs run free and tomatoes are ripe for picking, tugs at many of us, who, restless in the cold, begin to look for snowdrops pushing through winter’s ground.
We are impatient. It doesn’t take long for a “certain winter weariness to set in,” Klinkenborg writes. “It’s all a paradox. Cold feels absolutely rigid but seeps through windows.”
The sun sets too early. It is dark as families gather for supper and soccer practices end. We ponder a gray, old world outside our windows.
Yet, “The Rural Life” reminds us, even now, with husks of old worker bees falling from the hive, new ones buzz around the queen as she lays eggs. Frigid temperatures do not stem stirrings of all life.
January’s frozen fingers hold us in a tight grip even though we are old hands at waking to the birth of new seasons. We have no choice but to wait. The snowdrops will come.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning freelance writer in Marietta.