I like the solitude it affords us,
A time to take stock of myself and life generally. I’m used to the flat open spaces of farmland; the fields of whit fringed with tall green fir trees as a frame for its splendor.
No man or animal can approach the farm buildings for miles in circumference without being seen or tracked come morning.
I love the feeling of security when cold winds blow, and icicles hang a yard long from the shed roofs; when cozily warm inside, one flattens one’s nose against the frosted pane to absorb the beauty of the quiet countryside.
The dome of stars against blue velvet night sky makes the setting for stillness and clarity of a bitter-cold night.
Man dwindles in size before such magnificence.
No human stirs in the hours before dawn. The farmer and his family lie beneath warm blankets for a long peaceful sleep. In complete tune with nature surrounding them.
There will be an awakening. The cycle of seed-sowing, harvest and rest will began again for the farmer, his sons, and his sons’ sons, for generations to come.
With the first freeze of our New England winter, my thoughts pensively return to the country farm and as children, our first attempts at ice skating.
Zero weather then, was generally felt around Thanksgiving. Thereafter, the ponds and lakes froze thick and did not again thaw out until the early Spring.
Pools of frozen water in the farm's low-lands, glistened like polished mirrors in the bright sunlight.
The long red cow barns, within a fringe of green fir trees and fence posts made a picturesque background.
I remember, as children, running from ice patch to ice patch in our search for the longest and widest, in which to skate on. Once it was staked out, children from surrounding farms joined in the sport. Woolen scarves flying, skates twisted around small shoulders, they descended the hill, their sleds following from behind. Using them as seats, they sat down to attach their skates to their shoes. Mittens lay discarded while cold fingers inserted the key to tighten the clamps. Success did not come easily. Skates let go, to send a skater sprawling on the ice. Again, the clamps were adjusted and tightened. With a little luck, they held long enough for one to circle the ice, storing short when the wind pushed one off into the dead brown grass.
Some had the foresight to bring their Mother's broom to lean on and help keen their balance on the slippery ice.
As the afternoon wore on, and the sun less bright, children one by one kicked off their skates to head for home. Cheeks aflame from cold air and exercise, their keen appetites urging them on to the warm and fragrant farm kitchen.
The beauty of the scene, crisp-white, with touches of color, stay in my memory like that of a painter’s masterpiece. It never grows faded or less beautiful, despite the passing of time.
Back fifty years, the seasons in New England were more stable than they've seemed in recent years.
When the winter came, it did not relent. The ground froze solid. Lakes and ponds for ice skating were squared and cut by Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter, the ice cakes stored for the following summer. Snow fell upon snow, piling up into drifted hills that covered the highest fence.
Horse-drawn plows passed over the snow-covered sideways. Highways were leveled, leaving the sleights runners to pack the snow, thereby makings ribbons of polished ice.
New England lay in the grip of winter. By the tail-end of February, however, one began to sense a warmer trend.
Spring sends its forecasters far ahead of its arrival. Bright red sunsets gave a promise of the change to come. Thoughts of romance and of new growth circulated like a warm breeze. One noticed a softening process underfoot, a breaking up of ice crystals.
Children removed their heavy snow pants, leaving on only long underwear under knee-high stockings. They needed them for their trudges back and forth to school.
The frozen earth thawed, warmed by the bright sun's rays. Ice melted to the North, causing the river to swell and overflow its banks.
Snows melted to rush down rutted roads like gurgling brooks. A child's toy boat could be launched and quickly carried downstream to the nearest drain-basin.
In dried up sections of the sidewalks, small boys knelt in the mud for the first marble game of the seasons. Holyoke’s shoe stores advertised a free bag of marbles for every pair of boys' shoes sold.
Jumping ropes, made of braided colors and wooden handles were free gifts to little girls whose mothers bought them a pair of Mary Janes.
The popular penny-candy store brought out its display of “three penny” bouncing balls with long rubber bands attached. Sometimes they were used to plop an unsuspecting youngster on the head. The elastics made them quickly retrieved and pocketed before deduction.
College students paraded the campus, class-colored ribbons pinned to their sweaters, in anticipation of the competition basketball or baseball games scheduled ahead.
Pussy-willows were in evidence, the first bouquet to grace the teacher’s desk.
Spring was everywhere!
For all the discomfort winter brought, it made up for it, by far, by greener pastures, more fertile soil, more abundant growth, in exchange for moisture.
Nature is indeed a severe teacher in keeping a balance between growth and rest.