Recipe for winter

At this time of year, being settled into the routine of city life, I think of friends and acquaintances left behind on the island where I have spent a long season. How are they faring - and what changes have come over them - as they face the winter? It was a fancy of mine, when I was young, that the Adirondack woods where my family then summered, the lake, the surrounding hills and streams , all simply vanished at my departure in the autumn. They ceased to exist until I came again. As the ancients believed migratory birds to have gone to roost upon the moon, I supposed the Adirondack guides and trail-keepers to have gone to inhabit some unknown realm.

With age we grow less egocentric and do not easily imagine a world dependent for its existence upon our presence. Besides, Maine seems made of more durable stuff than that forest of Arden I knew of old. Maine's granite islands topped with ever-renewing spruce, its ocean, its people as rockily substantial as their coast, can hardly be conjured out of existence. They endure; they hold their own amid storms and snows; they haunt the imagination as the thought of them warms the heart. But what in the world are they doing now?

In my mind's eye I see the little village boarded up, its shops (to use in a different context a phrase of our neighbor Marguerite Yourcenar) ''like a face that no longer smiles.'' Gone indeed are the crafted wares, the antiques, even the books that lured the passers-by of a gentler season. Only the drugstore and the market, and perhaps a few purveyors of what are still in those parts rather quaintly described as ''dry goods,'' open their doors along the deserted street. Elsewhere the differences will be less evident, for the woods alter subtly in those climes and the sea changes but its lights and colors. Even its temperature , relatively frigid in summer, remains more stable than might be supposed, so that the eider ducks (under the impression that here is a pleasant resort) come south to pass their winter months in these waters.

It is people who change most, perhaps - if not in themselves then in their relation to one another. A man or woman indoors is always in some measure a different being from one out upon the highways of the world. I have known men who upon the trail or at sea are as agreeable companions as could be wished, bluff, affable, hearty, but put them in a house and they fill the place with their bulk, they suffuse it with an irrepressible noise. People compelled by circumstance or climate to dwell much under one roof, in close proximity to one another, learn to moderate their exuberance - to subdue and, it may be, to chill their emotions. So on that island of mine there is now undoubtedly a perceptible mood of withdrawal and a reaffirmation of privacy.

I say a ''reaffirmation of privacy'' for even in summer, to tell the truth, the long habitude of silence makes itself felt. The Maine people carry about with them an almost palpable reserve; indeed only by surprising them in some small way, perhaps waiting in one's own quietness for their quietness to exhaust itself, can one draw forth the true sentiments within. Now when the snows muster and the colder days of January seem imminent, that mantle of reserve is wrapped about them along with their wool jackets and their down vests. As log by log the carefully laid-up woodpile diminishes, the fires are lit which smolder in the heart and only now and then burst forth into open blaze.

It might be a good idea for all of us to try a Maine winter. Southern watering places may have their use; they warm the body though they do little enough for the soul. As for the great city, I enjoy its constant motion and the bright lights that symbolize the world's creative, restless spirit. One day, however, foregoing all this, I shall settle into the slow rhythms and arctic moods of a northern island. I may not be very successful in the experiment. I am afraid I chatter too much to remain fit company through such a season. I have too little of the waiting, attentive spirit. But to pass such a test would be to achieve one's diploma in a new kind of life. It would mean joining a part of the human family which has pondered much, felt much, and learned some of the secrets at the heart's core.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.