It is late Tuesday afternoon. It hasn’t been a great day so far.Too quiet, as if I am the only one alive. The office where I volunteer is nearly empty and I slip in and out undetected. I wave my volunteer badge in front of the door, head to the towering reference shelves and for three hours I scan bulging three-ring binders of documents, transfer them to files, organize them, give them names, and tuck them out of sight in yet another file. All the while I sip my Diet Pepsi, blow my nose constantly because of the Icelandic indoor temperature and rue the day I decided this particular volunteer project would change my life for the better. I think I’ll be done in the spring.
Spring. I know it is coming because the willows are turning a hopeful shade of chartreuse and the breeze on my cheeks does not sting with sandy dryness. And even though it has been a mild winter with not much snow, we have managed to burn through most of our latest face-cord of fruitwood in a month, too slow in realizing that the better the wood, the more we burn.
Fires are so comforting, especially with a glass of wine. It is a party if you are alone, as I am for much of the day. By 4 o’clock, when I am supposed to be conjuring up an idea of what to have for supper, the idea of a glass of something red to cauterize the cold is far more appealing than rooting around the freezer. I am past the time of life when cooking for my family is a daily honor. I pour and peer out into back yard like a cave woman, looking for fallen bark and pine cones to start the fire.
The sky is turning purple, pink and orange in that indescribable glow of a winter sunset. Click! Our Christmas lights go on around the back yard, lighting up the trunks of our trees in blue, green and white. Yes, it is February. Yes, the lights are still on the trees. But it took so long to wind them around the old crab apple back in November I certainly wasn’t going to rip them off in January just to be culturally correct. We decided to leave them up until St. Patrick’s Day, or until we get a notice from the village.
Click click! This time it is the next door neighbor. Their Christmas lights go on around the wrought iron gazebo in the back after being dark for weeks. It is a show of late-season solidarity from the Carlson family. I knew I liked them. Mr. Carlson does yard work with a cigar in his mouth. They are quiet and tidy.
A few minutes later, from three houses down the street, a dormant maple snaps into icy brilliance, revealing a head to toe garland of classic white lights. Another kindred spirit! The sight of the sparkling tree warms my heart more than wine. I am not alone. We three are keepers of the light in the dark prairie winter.