My bougainvillea are browned and withered. I tried to coax them along, speaking compliments aloud, admiring the bright orange flowers and the deep pink, gay and riotous, at last beginning to climb up that ugly cyclone fencing. “Yay!” I say to them. “Keep up the good work, you can do it! Grow, grow.”
I envision them spread over the fence, wild and wonderful, bringing color and vibrancy to that dreary part of our yard. It’s hard enough to keep them blooming in the warmth of summer, watering, pruning, and discouraging gophers (a rodent not easily discouraged), but winter is beyond my limited skills.
One night, perhaps jealous of the unseasonal tropical display, winter reaches out her frozen fingers, and I woke to see the plants suddenly, sadly dead, all color drained, as if never there at all. The frozen fingers don’t stop there but reach out further seeping through crevasses and cracks and under doors. One can almost hear her cackling, as she breathes icy air within our home producing a chill that only a martini could appreciate.
We lumber about the house bundled up in two robes each, which is not a good look. I don’t recall it ever being this cold in our home before. To combat the chill, we pile an eclectic collection of blankets on the bed: the bright red Christmas one; the star and moon cosmos cover; the leopard print snug; the little gray blanket, soft as a bunny. I’ve even taken to sleeping in a fuzzy pair of my daughter’s pajama pants, resplendent with red-nosed Rudolphs and Abominable Snowmen, which could be an unfortunate fashion choice for a woman of a certain age.
By morning the bed is so warm and cuddly I don’t want to get up and so I don’t. I hide in there with the cat, pretending to have not a care in the world, no jury duty, no taxes, no bills. In fact, it’s come to the place where I try to pretend to be a cat. I stretch and roll over; the bed is warm, and I’d purr if I could. Although having awakened but recently, I’m tempted, like the cat, to just close my eyes and take a little nap. In fact, why not stay in bed all day? There’s some prediction touted on the news and online that this very day is going to be the coldest yet, with temperatures dropping tonight to the point where in our Topanga Mountains there might just be a few snowflakes. Oh, the magic of it! Could it truly be possible? That might be something worth getting out bed for, but right now, without the enchantment of falling flakes it’s just plain cold and I think we’re out of coffee.
There are a few hours when we have some sunshine. The Beleaguered Husband and I scuttle out, drawn to the warmth like lizards or crabs. We bask in the patio chairs or the chaise lounge, soaking up the sun as we begin to peel off some of our outer cover, like shedding skin. Now and then, even nodding off as if we were a couple of junkies, or God forbid, just old. But the sun moves quickly, the wind comes up, and we scurry back inside in search of sustenance.
Many animals in hibernation mode eat little, subsiding on stored fat. We however, seem to be insatiably hungry. We graze on all manner of delectables without consideration for time of day or combination. Why not try pie and chili for breakfast? Tuna and chocolate biscotti for a midnight snack washed down with a warming cabernet? And who could resist a lunch of mac and cheese, with a side of pretzels drizzled with thousand island dressing, followed by some Girl Scout cookies? Certainly not I.
We battle on. We brave a fire in the fireplace, hot showers are taken, the wall heater is on, and the dryer warms our clothes before we don them. But blooming Persephone, young Goddess of the Spring, remains in the underworld and is required to stay there, in that dark country, in the company of Hades, for having eaten but six pomegranate seeds. There she will abide until being released on the spring equinox in March. For now, her mother, Demeter, Goddess of Harvest roams the earth grieving her daughter’s absence, neglecting to tend to the growing things. So, winter comes to the world.
Save for the gophers and melancholy crows, even the animals seem to have taken shelter. Although there was recently the full and glowing orb known as the Snow Moon, no coyotes howled under it. Even the owls must have gone south. During the great rain, there were a few early, enthusiastic frogs emitting their charming croaks in an attempt to get the inside track on wooing. Although it attracted me, a froggy fan who was lured to venture out in the downpour in hopes of catching a glimpse of the serenading suiter; evidently no lady frogs responded. They were not yet ready to wake from their froggy dreams and besides it was much too cold for courting, as any sensible lady hopper knows. So even those few eager, amorous amphibians seem to have retreated back to the creek and just burrowed back in. There they nap, waiting for the magic that will stir within their hearts and whisper, “Awake and sing!”and all at once they will, filling the Topanga nights with their ancient, cacophonous enchantment.
I know, although we complain and bemoan our discomfort, we are lucky to have home and hearth, to live and ramble about in a house cold but still standing. In the recent fires many people have lost their homes and everything they had, and some even their lives. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction we might not now be here.
And it would only take a bad wind to cause any matter of calamity that would find us in desperate straits. Some medical emergency could arise, loss of income, or an accident, identity theft (although who would want to be us?), earthquake, flood, fire or fascism, and suddenly we could be out on the streets, homeless in this world. In this cold I cannot help but think of those who are in that sad plight. Maybe some parents without proper shelter are trying to keep a child warm. Until we can solve the great dilemma of homelessness, maybe it’s not the season to cast blame but the season just to give someone a blanket.
Today is again dreary, the sky a battle between gray and white. Predictions of rain are in the forecast. The black crow sharply calls a warning, sitting etched against a barren leafless tree.
Winter is a time for reflection, that deep, sleepy time, a time to catch one’s breath, to honor loss and love and passing time that can’t be stopped. It’s a time to be grateful for a roof over one’s head. A time to sort through shoes, strange things in the refrigerator, and dreams once set aside that might be dreamt again.
When I step outside to survey for a moment my Topanga in winter, I am astounded to see yellow daffodils have bloomed where there were none the day before. Bright yellow, cheerful yellow, glorious yellow, the surprise of which almost knocked me down. They seemed to appear overnight by magic, delivered by elves or fairies or maybe, just a gift from Persephone. A sign that although far away underground she has not forgotten us here above in a stark gray land, staggering, strange, and shivering, without her smile to cheer us, a promise that she will soon be returning.
At this very moment, just outside my open door, a frog has begun to croak.