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April 3, 2014
This is Not a Stone
March Lies
by Hannah Bird

The easiest job in the world is a butcher in Idaho in March. All they have to do is hang the carcass outside and the wind will strip all the flesh from the bones.

“It’s okay,” another farmer’s wife told me once, “If it stopped blowing we’d have to learn to fix our hair.” She patted the stocking cap that covered her white hair. I laughed, a similar hat covering my own. No danger of that.

Winter is more of a lifestyle than a season. It begins in October. As I write in April, snow is falling. We have had snow on Father’s Day. Some even claim to have seen snow on the Fourth of July.

Three months of winter would seem like a lot. But six or seven months seems eternal.

It starts innocuously enough. The air turns crisp. Then there is a skiff of snow. Favorite sweaters appear. Decorations go up. Holidays begin. There are crackling fires and cocoa. Winter feels close and cozy. But most of all, it feels survivable.

Then January comes. Sleigh bells end.  You find yourself in a silent world beneath a flat dark sky so low that you can feel it pushing you down. The cold has drifted past door frames and windows. It is bone deep. Blankets only hold in the cold from your own bones.

The snow that seemed charming and picturesque a month ago becomes a more sinister force. The cattle’s water freezes. A splitting maul is needed to cut through the ice. Only the ice, you hope, and not the side of the stock tank.

The wind has pushed the snow sideways. It is under the roof of the barn, under the tarps. Snow has made icy blocks of expensive hay that still must be chipped apart and fed.

The walk to the barn increases daily. The wind pushes you back with each step. The cold magnifies each moment.  

It is a slow slog.

Then February. It’s the shortest month because no one could bear one more day. The world is grey. Once white snow is has hardened into a mass as hard and bleak as concrete.

Crackling fires are not enough to push back the low funk of a house that has been shut up for months. The grind is worsened by the calendar. Surely we are nearer now to spring.

Then March. It thaws beneath sunny skies. Then it freezes the mud. The world alternates between a mudded slush and mudded ice day in and day out. Nothing is clean. The remaining snow is moldering, hard and grey. The mud grabs. The wind cuts. Sometimes it smells for just a moment like spring. But the wind blows that away.  

This is the trick. March lies. It says winter will never go. It says that you cannot take one more frozen windshield or slippery drive. It wears you down with mud and muck and then beats you with more grey skies.

We talk about endurance. It is a much repeated phrase, endure till the end. We say it again and again, almost until it loses meaning. Endure. Stay the course. We say to do it. But there is less discussion about how.

Sometimes enduring feels like March, on million steps moving nowhere. It feels like every hopeful breeze is a trick to taunt us. Our own winters can be so much longer than they calendar suggested. We lose faith in our ability to lift our heads under the heavy sky.

It is April now. The snow is falling still. Wind shrieks as it breaks on the side of the house. There is a winter weather advisory in effect.

But there are tiny leaves budding on the shrubs in front of my house. The little decorative maples are not dismayed. They have slept long enough. They believe in April. They believe in May. They have endured this winter too, sleeping and waiting.

Then it is June. There will be butterflies in the lilacs. There will be viola beneath the pines. The wind will settle and freshen. I will throw all the windows open and blow the angst out. There will be calves in the field and sweet grass instead of mud.

Then July. My sister and mother will come. I will have a house full of nieces and cousins, speckled with sweat and freckles. They will run in and out all day long. They will eat ice cream for breakfast and ride on the tractor because my husband is a marshmallow.

We will go to the lake to cool off.  We will take shelter from the sun. We will go to the ranch and run miles of fence. We will travel through Yellowstone Park too many times.

There will be berries on canes that I never see because the children got there first. There will be more fruit than we can eat. Apricots and peaches and cherries will pour in. We will can them. We will make jelly and juice. We will can fruit for pie.

We will put it on the shelf. It will wait, forgotten until a day in winter. We will blow the dust off the bottle and tug off the lid and find in it summer.

This is how we endure. We know that March lies. It is not forever. No hurt is. The lonely sky may say that spring will never come, but the oaks know better. We cannot endure February without remembering that June is real too.

All things come to pass. Spring comes after every winter. Even the ones we endure all on our own.


Copyright © 2021 by Hannah Bird Printed from NauvooTimes.com