I WASN'T looking forward to going back home. It was the dead of winter. It would be cold, and it had been so long since I had lived on the farm. I didn't know if I could bear the isolation. Pulling into the drive with my two-year-old son and Siamese cat, I groaned, exhausted from the cross-country drive, and sighed in discomfort for what seemed ahead.
Then it happened. It started slowly at first, almost unnoticeably. But growing up on the farm, I knew that the smaller the flakes, the deeper the snow. Floating like diamonds, they seemed almost nothing, unlike the fat soap shavings of a fast, flat snow. The horizon, pearl grey as it snowed for days, seemed unending. We got buried deeper and deeper under winter's blanket. A mile from the main road, itself closed for days, I was now stuck.
Here on the farm I was free. In the 10 years since leaving, I had lived the life I dreamed of as a girl during the lazy summer days, hidden in the barn reading - dreams of a life of travel and adventure. Freedom.
In the years that passed, I met many people in my work with a famous researcher with whom I traveled extensively. All I had wanted was mine, so it seemed. But this life soon lost its color; the streets of the cities were so dull in contrast to my memories of summer fields in bloom. Nowhere to be found were the woods in seasonal garb.
But to go back, when I was living the life I had dreamed - so different in cadence from life on the farm that seemed to offer so little - I couldn't.
Then, like the tiny snowflakes, the cumulative effect of my country years surprised me, and I was struck by the silence of the welcoming snow. As I moved my legs through the snow, the swishing of my coat became music and the serenity of winter enchanting. A cardinal skitted from brown branch to evergreen. The shock of crimson almost said, "Stop. Look around you. This is what it means to be free."
I found freedom in the draping of a spruce, weighted in white, standing like a bridesmaid beckoning spring; and freedom in the blue-black of night, the tinsel of sky as childhood's Big Dipper sparkles while scooping me up. Yes, there was freedom in the cracking of a twig underfoot, snapped sharp and relentless like nature herself. The capricious fits of the snow, the rain and the lightning, the reckless wind - all these gave me a sense of freedom. Just as the screeching of the rusted gate did, swishing and banging.
A startled doe noticed me as I make my way to the river, now freshly frozen - a center line of liquid, a mental trace of a hot summer swim I had had after the last baling and of relief from the hay dust plastered by sweat.
It was then I first saw him, during that summer, still just a boy, so eager to be a man. He had come to stack the nearly perfect hay, and standing atop the hay wagon in the hottest of August, he had his own warmth, which flashed from laughing blue eyes, the color of sky.
Now welcoming me home in the dead of this winter, the winter of my return, the farmhand-turned-carpenter moves with a grace that comes of knowing the earth, a bit about life, and his own place within it. He hammers the nails of my mother's new kitchen, giving the farmhouse a facelift, and speaks about his day, the latest joke about town, then stops to smile.
Surrendering to myself, I admit, there's a lot in that smile. A smile that says what it's all about. Spring will not be long.