Gimbling in the Wabe – Winter and Reading

by Sharon Browning

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The bulk of this Gimbling in the Wabe came from one I had posted three years ago; it’s also, I think, my favorite “winter” installment of this feature.  So, since I’m running short of time and inspiration this week, I thought I would run it again, albeit with a bit of adjustment from the original.  Think of it not so much as settling for leftovers, as updating a cherished recipe.

Stay warm, my friends.

~ * ~ * ~

It’s January up here in Minnesota, which means that it’s cold.  It’s almost always cold in Minnesota in January – if dog parkit’s not, there’s something wrong.  Most of us up here don’t mind the cold; we endure it, some of us embrace it, most of us hold it up like a badge of honor.  One thing is for certain – it gives perspective.

It also gives us a reason to curl up with a good book.  Summertime is a time for activity, and doing things, getting things done.  We open up, we strip down to basics (sometimes literally!), we get out there, we move and shake and we do.  But wintertime – ah, now that’s a time for curling up, for retreating into ourselves, for hands wrapped around steaming hot mugs of cocoa, and polar fleece and crystal gossamer on windows.  Oh, and if you have one, wintertime allows for that slice of divine that is a fireplace, with the warmth of the crackling flames, the smell of wood burning and a sense of contentment that cannot be duplicated in any other way.  Yes, winter activities are fun, and there’s nothing like the exhilaration that comes from defying the cold, but in the end we all wrap that shawl over our shoulders or exchange that second set of socks for fleecy slippers, slip into the well worn sweatshirt that fits just right, or throw on that flannel anything and we snuggle.  We snuggle against each other or into ourselves, as we read.

Earlier today I took my dog for a romp on a frozen lake in the heart of the city.  Outside it was heavy and grey and cloudy, threatening snow; in fact, the flakes started falling pretty thickly as we were trekking across the deeply frozen water.  There was already a layer of old snow on top of the ice, so I walked easily; Belle, however, would occasionally lose traction and slide as she gamboled around.  The sounds of the city were hushed and distant for us far out on the lake; tracks left behind by skiers and ice skaters criss-crossed our path but at this time of day we were alone on the expanse of white.  It was easy to imagine existing in our own little world of swirling flakes and powdery footing and the flush of cold on my cheeks and the tips of my fingers.  I was meditative but Belle was energized, and the red of her coat flashed fantastic against the whites and greys and darks of the landscape as she cavorted and rolled and snuffed and slid as only dogs can do.

Upon returning home, I brewed a fresh pot of coffee while Belle cleaned the recalcitrant snow that remained stubbornly lodged between her toes.  I knew what was next on my agenda, and no, it had nothing to do with last night’s dinner dishes that had been rinsed but were still piled in the kitchen sink, nor the round of online banking and bill paying that shouldn’t be put off until tomorrow.  But those things could wait.  Now, while my cheeks were still tingling and my glasses were still clouding up from the warmth of my house, now it was time to read.

Curling up in “my” chair (a wide-armed, deep seated monstrosity known as “Mom’s Throne” because it’s quite imposing looking, and I’m the only one that sits there), with my coffee within arm’s reach and all three critters – one dog, two cats – curled up on their respective couch or chair cushions, I opened up my book-of-the-moment, a touching novel by Minneapolis native Peter Geye entitled The Lighthouse Road (Unbridled Books, published October 2, 2012) and disappeared into its pages.  Set in Gunflint, Minnesota (now a popular resort area on Lake Superior just south of the Canadian border) between 1895 and 1937, it follows the story of Norwegian immigrant Thea Eide, her young son Odd Einer Eide, and the woman who is the fragile thread that connects them to each other.

It’s a lovely book, one I heartily recommend, but to be honest, were it not due back at the library tomorrow (unfortunately, not one that I can renew), it probably would not have been my book of choice to read today after coming off a chilly morning’s outing.

If I had my druthers, I probably would have picked a book that wasn’t as contingent on being at the mercy of winter as The Lighthouse Road is.  Too much of a good thing, don’tcha know?  Although no one in Peter Geye’s book falls victim to the harsh climate (as is way too often the case with books set in the North Country), it still remains a vital impact on the lives of the characters that come to life in the novel’s pages, in a way of which I can heartily relate (even while sitting in my comfortable chair in my toasty house drinking my accessible hot beverage of choice).

No, if I had free rein, I probably would have picked something else, something not quite as akin to what I had just walked in from.  That made me wonder:  if I was free from the strictures of timing, what would I read?  What would take me from chilly Minnesota, transport me elsewhere, then safely bring me back again in time to get dinner on the table?  Undoubtedly, many, many books would adequately do this… but which of them would be just perfect?

For me, the answer to that question would be the classic tale of the antebellum South, Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell.  Ah, the hot Georgia sun, beating down on a festive plantation barbeque with young ladies floating like butterflies across wide, green verandas!  That hot sun blasting but never stifling the frenetic energy of a young Atlanta, bursting at the seams, or adding to the squalor and misery of those left in the dust of a retreating army.  There is no touch of winter in these pages, just a balmy chill or a sudden coolness to the air when desires and plans are thwarted.  Yes, I acknowledge that Gone With the Wind is a problematic, incomplete reflection of that time, but must admit to loving it so, especially when the wind is blowing outside my window, and the snow is snarly and has turned from beautiful to raw.

Still, as much as I would like to pause to reflect on a time and place much warmer than here, I need to move on to other obligations in my day.  I’ve gone contentedly stiff from sitting in my chair, reading and writing as the minutes and the hours have passed by.  The winter light coming in through the picture window has now dimmed to the point where I’ll need to rouse myself and turn on some lights to stave off the gloom.  And there’s an evening meal to be planned and recipe requirements to be met, which means that I’d better get to those dishes and other busywork, and that my time for reading and writing has come to an end, at least for now.

Besides, it feels a little chilly here.  I think I’ll go throw on another pair of socks.

~ Sharon Browning

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