Late winter is season widely dreaded for its cold silence and lonely darkness. The birds have gone back to being clearly birds, and leaves are no longer carried on the wind. Unless they have been blown and bagged and hauled away by the pernicious machinery of autumn, the leaves linger on the ground now, keeping overwintering insects safe for spring. The autumnal tumult has gone quiet as the season of change settles into the season of rest. Nary a katydid or cricket sings in the night.
I miss the flying leaves, but I am grateful for this stillness and this quiet. I am so grateful for the birds, the titmice, cardinals, jays and woodpeckers at the feeder. Though fewer in winter than in the other seasons, I can see them better now. Unhidden in the cold boughs, unmuted in the cold air, their echoing songs spill down from the bare branches.
Taking a walk at sundown, unhurried by the failing light, is another gift of this season. At any other time of year, strolling a leaf-strewn path in darkness is always a bit of a hazard. Wild creatures study us and know our patterns, avoiding the places we frequent. They wait for us to leave the world to them. In a warmer season, to walk on a well-worn path as the park empties and darkness falls is to risk stepping on a snake, and I would no more like to tread on a snake than a snake would like to be trod on. In winter the snakes are sleeping.
Even the wakeful residents feel closer in winter. It’s courtship season for the Eastern grey squirrels and the great horned owls, and they are the reason I like best to be outdoors at sundown. The owls begin to call as night comes on, first one and then the other. I scan the trees, following the sound. Still as they are, if I am lucky, I will see them in the shadows.
Late in the day, before my husband gets home, I sit with my book and my dog, and I treasure the quiet. The earth is resting, and we are in need of rest too. In these last days of winter, connecting if only for a brief time to a deeper stillness inside us, we can feel at home (and relish) in the silences of the world.
shortened version of a December essay by the Tennessee based writer, Margaret Renkl