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Beyond the Bite of Winter

(Page 2 of 2)



A few months from now, when the grass and the flowers of our Canadian spring almost explode from the ground, and the air, filled with strange, sweet bird songs, seems to enfold all living things, then, I think, it will be easy to be alive. Then, there will be no sense of boundary. Life flows on, and our life flows with all life.

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But on this evening in the deep of winter when the wind blows coldly through the poplar's bare branches and the sky is so clear, life seems a queer thing, a chance occurrence, the exception rather than the rule. My shiver is partly a shiver of loneliness.

I turn, just before the trees, to cross the driveway near the chicken house, and as I come out from under the trees into the clear air, I look up into the blackness above the valley. Who can imagine such emptiness? Am I looking out or am I looking in? And then, suddenly, it happens.

Above me a familiar figure, a pattern in the void, draws my eye. Looking out or looking in, I wonder. Emptiness organizes itself, ceases to be emptiness, and links me to a home whose doorway is all time and the starry heavens too.

Some star map I saw as a child dressed Orion in Roman garb, with short skirt, his left arm holding a lion skin as a kind of shield, a sword hanging from the stars of his belt, and a mighty club upraised against the bull who bears down on him. Now I just see the pattern of stars, and above him, to the southwest, the V of the head of Taurus, the bull. Below him, to the southeast, I recognize Sirius, the dog star, the shining eye of Canis Major, Orion's faithful companion.

Between the chicken house and the barn, I pause. There in the sky is all the glory of the starry heavens, shining as only they can when the air is cold and clear. Such a collection of wonders! Suddenly I feel a sense of oneness with others, throughout the ages, who have looked into the night sky warms me. I see and recognize, besides Orion, other familiar presences twinkling against the black.

There is Procyon, the other dog star; Castor and Pollux, the heavenly twins; bright Capella; the Pleiades; the seven sisters, daughters of the Greek god Atlas and his wife, Pleione; and below them this winter, the unwinking star of reddish Mars, god of war.

It is still bitterly cold and the wind stings tears from my eyes. Even in gloves my fingers are smarting from grasping the handles of the water buckets. As I turn to finish my path, I wonder at the curious joy this chilly night has brought me.

I reach the door to the barn and go in to that smaller darkness. With a flip of a switch, the dark flees and emptiness becomes a familiar place.

Thomas Not-a-Tom meets me as usual, purring. The other cats begin to appear: Cally, Spitz, Lopsie, Queenie. Anka, the little heifer, sticks her nose over the top of her stall in greeting. From the other end of the floor comes the sound of clashing stanchions as Maggie and John the steer rise in expectation.

"Hello, Maggie," I say to my cow as I put a bucket of water in front of her and do the same for John. Going back to the walkway, I open the big door behind John, take the shovel and begin to muck out.