OPINION

The Flatlander

Nothin' better than winter

Posted

Winter is the best season.

Convince me I’m wrong.

•There is no sweating in winter.

•Have you ever heard the distant rumbling of snow thunder in a countryside blanketed with snow that’s so quiet it commands every sense of your attention?

•Snow cream. Enough said.

•Christmas, and the approach of the New Year, that week when no one really does much but love their family and eat. And take naps.

•Snow days with tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

•Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. And the sight of smoke lifting itself skyward from a distant chimney visible across the rolling countryside.

•The exclamation you make when the bright white of an eagle’s head and tail prominent against the dormant hills and the White River suddenly appears from nowhere.

•Lights in the town square.

•No lawn mowing.

•Flannel sheets.

•Did I mention snow cream anywhere?

I love winter. Always have.

It probably goes back to childhood on a small cotton farm. Let’s see, would you rather be toting a hoe handle for six hours strait plodding through gumbo and dew-covered cotton leaves in air so hot and thick you can hardly breath? Or marshmallows and hot chocolate by the fireplace “reading” the Sears Christmas catalogue and thinking about a letter to Santa?

•••

There are great memories of wintertime in the Delta.

It was bad enough that our rural electric provider had a reputation for losing power every time the wind blew. But January 1976 brought an ice storm wrecking trees and power lines so badly the whole community closed for three weeks.

They said it was the worst ice and coldest stretch of weather in forty years. Our family of three spent 21 days huddled around a fireplace, roasting marshmallows and cooking on an open fire, playing board games and gin rummy until cabin fever drove us practically mad.

Mom and Dad, who both grew up without the convenience of indoor plumbing thought it a riot that at 10 years old I had to learn how to relieve myself outside in sub-freezing weather. It’s a skill not easily learned for a child in coveralls, thermal underwear, and gloves. You make all kinds of bodily adjustments when you’re doing your business in an eight-inch snow.

Those three weeks may have been the best quality time we ever spent together as a family. I remember wishing school would never go back into session, and that our time together would never end.

Daddy took his four-wheel-drive pickup out for a drive every day “checking the roads.” He was surely loafing and drinking coffee at Ball-Hout Implement tractor dealership, escaping what Mom and I could not. Every day for 10 days he offered the same dubious report.

“Roads still too bad to get y’all out. It’s as slick as glass out there,” he said, never once looking us square in the eye.

When we finally loaded up for a family drive on the tenth day there was both wreckage we couldn’t comprehend and an ominous beauty we never expected. One home place after another appeared ravaged, 70-year-old oak and pecan trees shattered and power lines strewn everywhere, collapsed by seven inches of icy weight. Cars and trucks were left abandoned in roadside ditches at least every quarter mile. The countryside was silent with inactivity. It was not a peaceful quiet. It was dead silence.

But every so often there was a contrast of hope. Dozens of farmers left their cotton stalks uncut that year, and the icy storm covered every inch of every branch. As the southerly sun’s soft winter light gleamed through the clouds, the fields appeared as a brilliant farm of dazzling crystal jewels. A harvested cotton farm covered in ice during January qualifies as one of the world’s incredible visual wonders.

•••

Today, back in Round Bottom Valley, the pantries have been stocked for weeks with all the necessary ingredients for snow cream. At least two occasions since Christmas have called for decent snowfall, but we’ve seen no more than a few flakes. The valley, it seems, stays just a degree or two warmer than the higher elevations, and if anyone in Stone County sees snow, I think we are the last in line.
Still, it’s a beautiful sight to behold.

When we purchased the property a year ago this month, I’d frequently bring a lawn chair on day trips from Jonesboro and just sit and look around. The January air is clear and crisp, and if you inhale and exhale it just right, it will lift your spirits in a way nothing else seems to do.

Just last week we awoke to the most delicate ice crystal formations on tree limbs and flowers and birdhouses. For almost 30 minutes everything on the property appeared as having thorns. (See some photos from that on our weekly photo page, page 1B.)

Winter in the Ozarks. Tell me what could be better.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

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