The Nature of the Season
by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

I know it’s a small fraternity, but I’m one of those who actually loves cold weather. So November and December are my kind of months: gunmetal-gray skies, hard frosts, smoky breaths, tangy wood smoke, and crunchy crystalline coatings over lawns and fields. It’s the season for reflection, when nature clears out the year’s growth from trees and shrubs, giving us the longer view, the clearer view, to vistas blocked during the green months.

The end of the calendar year is also a great time to move inside, with family and friends, and celebrate the rich array of blessings we enjoy as Virginians and as Americans. After Isabel’s wrath in September, many have no doubt added electric service to their list of counted blessings at Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas gatherings.

As has been our custom for the last several years, in this year-end issue we’d like to share with your family some of our favorite passages about the season. This year, we’re sharing passages about the cold seasons and their holy rites from some of our favorite nature writers. We hope you enjoy this look at the natural world during this sacred, special season.


The supper smoke is coming blue out of the chimney, and the window in the kitchen shows yellow. The house looks so incredibly cozy and desirable in the midst of this fiercely beautiful and merciless landscape; it is enough to tear your soul out by the roots. Into my mind comes the realization that here I am, now, out of all time and all space, here in this place. And I say to myself, This is my house. My woman. A baby. Two babies. Simple things like that.

—Elliott Merrick,

Green Mountain Farm, 1948.

Before we reached the far edge of the home pasture, it began to snow, big, puffy flakes that nudged each other with a swishing sound like a whisper in the silence. It was still snowing half an hour later when I went out to bring an armload of fireplace wood from the woodshed, but the temperature had dropped almost 10 degrees and the snow had been reduced to pellets that hissed in the wind that came whistling around the corner of the house ... And I knew that I was one with the wind and the stars and the earth itself. December was all around me, simple as the glittering breath from my lungs, complex as the snowflake, and I was a part of the mystery, the wonder, and the awe. I was aware of the wholeness and the holiness of life, the reason beyond all my reasoning.

 —Hal Borland,

“Winter and the Holiness,” from Countryman: A Summary of Belief, 1965.

Even when I was very young, Christmas was a time of memory. It stretched back across the years, filled with all the kaleidoscopic rememberings of other Christmases, always moving us close together in a special time of loving and being loved. It reached back even beyond my own birth. I could see earlier Christmases in the way Mother hung a favorite, faded ornament on the tree, in the way Father’s face softened when he began to sing a Christmas carol in Norwegian. Always one of my brothers would say, “Remember the time the dog knocked the tree down?” I couldn’t remember, but I could see it. It became so much a part of Christmas that one year I beat everyone else and said it myself. No one realized that I only remembered through their remembering.

 —Ben Logan, “Season Within a Season,” from The Land Remembers, 1975.

By October’s end or early November we have checked out the heating, winterized the car, tucked up the house, switched clothing, and pulled up the garden. Now we are permitted to wait. One night we will wake conscious of a soft advent, quietness dropping from the air; we will gaze into darkness to watch the great white onset of winter. We will rise in the morning, virtue’s reward, in a warm house to don warm clothing, and to start a car that will start. The most foresighted among us will even have stationed snow shovels and pails of salt by the kitchen door. Sigh ... It helps to remember that winter is ominous of spring.

 —Donald Hall, “October’s Omens,” from Here at Eagle Pond, 1990.



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