Let’s get straight to it. Winter sucks.
No one much likes winter except hibernating bears, sweater knitting cranks, and ski-sloping daredevils. Winter is cold and dark, the yard looks like an HOA scandal, and when you start your car in the morning, you freeze to death waiting for the windshield to defrost because you forgot, again, to put the ice scraper in your glovebox.
The dogs don’t want to go outside. The electric bill goes up even though you wear two pairs of socks. Every winter you research if death by static electricity is a real thing – it’s not, though, you might explode from pumping gas. And you can never quite tell if you’re sick or about to be sick or if it’s just sinuses.
Then there’s the month of February. Sure, Groundhog Day is pretty cool, but, besides Bill Murray, February’s the worse month of the year. New Years’ resolutions have already died. You’re stuck with that saccharine, Hallmark-invented holiday in the middle. And just to stick it to you, for no good reason at all, the month of February adds an extra day every couple of years. What the hell!
And that’s just what winter’s like in the South. I can’t imagine having subfreezing temperatures for weeks and months on end. I can’t imagine shoveling snow or having snow tires or piles of plowed-up snow sitting around for months accumulating tailpipe veneers of soot and filth.
A long time ago, up north somewhere, winter drove a person mad; he pulled his car out on a frozen lake, cut a hole through the ice, baited a hook, and waited for the lake to swallow him up in a grand display of defiance and self-destruction. After winters and winters of doing this without having plunged to the bottom of the lake, the sport of ice fishing was invented, which, to be clear, is neither a sport nor a sign of good mental health.
If I’m gonna bellyache about winter, we might as well ask the hard question: where did winter come from? Let’s me be lucid and direct here. Winter does not come from the Earth’s rotational axis that strips direct sunlight away. Winter doesn’t come from shifting weather patterns and currents. Winter isn’t meteorological or variants of equatorial distance.
Winter is the result of sin. Pure and simple godlessness. Human profanity. That’s why Adam and Eve made clothes after the fall. They were cold. And the first act of grace was God making Adam and Eve better clothes because it was getting colder – not this fig leaf attire but furs.
Now, I know what you learned-biblical scholars are thinking. You’re thinking that if winter is the result of sin, and cold its natural punishment, why the hell is a cozy, lake of fire described as a place of eternal punishment?
I’m suggesting that maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Think of all that gnashing of teeth that’s happening in hell. Can that be anything more than the quivering and chattering of teeth because it is cold? Think of the utter darkness of hell. Can that be anything but the lurid, waning moonlight burnishing a cold fallen palette morose? No, of course not! And then there’s that story on the internet about the resurrected lawyer who said of his near-death experience, “I felt myself in the cold, reptilian hands of two hideous demons. In the distance, I could hear the sounds of screams and moans. The demons pulled me down through the darkness toward the sound, and as they did, I kept getting colder and colder.” Is that any less believable than a pious, Christian book that pocketed millions and millions of dollars about a boy who came back from heaven? Really though, we have to pay homage to Dante who captured best the lowest rung of hell: “And I now shrank, against the wind, behind my guide. There were no glades to shelter in. I was by now (I write this verse in fear) where all the shades in ice were covered up, transparent as are straws preserved in glass.”
You see, none of this is talking about an unfortunate afterlife. It’s all about winter!
It’s just now the middle of January. Winter has already turned me into a spiritual Andy Rooney. I’m grumpy and cross because my feet are cold. I’m tired of being cooped up like a chicken waiting for a hungry farmer. I’m tired of putting on so many layers I’m like Ralphie’s kid brother and can’t even put my arms down.
The other week a thimble-sized layer of ice coated the ground and then four inches of snow was dumped on top of it. That may not sound like a lot for winter-hardened souls from places that scrounge around for more than a couple hours of daylight, but, here in the swamps of North Carolina, a four-inch snow is a state of emergency.
The novelty was too much to resist. I loaded up Beans (my truck) with my camera gear and took off an hour before daylight for the Holly Shelter game land. Beans crunched through the virgin snowfall like a solider. The major highway from my house to the game land was a sheet of ice. No one was out. When I arrived at the game land, which stretches to near the other side of the county, there wasn’t a tire track to be found. I put Beans in four-wheel drive and headed miles away from paved roads.
I wish there was a great story to tell about my adventure just before sunrise, miles away from civilization in a frozen wasteland. I wish I could tell you that I got back there and ran out of gas or that I got stuck or that I accidently locked myself out of my own truck while taking a picture. I wish I could tell you about finding bear tracks in the snow or a little bird that landed on my shoulder. I wish I could tell you about a duck hitting me in the face. (You’ll need to read back several blogs for that one.) Or a man coming out of the woods to tell me how the earth is really flat. (You’ll have to read back even further for that story.)
But the sad truth is there’s not much to tell. I took a few pictures, watched the sunrise through the pine trees, and took a few more pictures. I suppose I could write some dishonest, purple prose on the desolation of God. Or how I stood still and listened to the millions of tiny snowflakes brush the ground with their solemn uniqueness and knew I was in the presence of the Lord. I suppose I could even write about the diversity of God’s creation, how the frozen landscape is the same place I go to photograph butterflies and Venus flytraps in August and September.
Blah, blah. The truth was my hands and ears were numbed. Since I left before daylight, I had forgotten my sunglasses and was getting a headache from squinting. And I was coffee starved.
What then does this blog have to say about the wonder of God’s creation and a photographer’s attempt to explore deeper, more meaningful truths? I’m pretty sure the answer is nothing. But I’ll gouge out an answer anyway because that’s what you pay me for.
Maybe it means just this: if we’re having Holy Spirit moments all the time, if we can find God consistently, if every worship service and bible study brings us to the elation of Pentecost like some vatic experimenting with trippy herbs or licking toads, I’m pretty sure Jesus has fermented in our bowels and rotgut, canned heat is all that we’ve got.
The pastor who preaches with nothing but a smile, the praise and worship band whose hearts are always brimming over, the bible study teacher who never runs out of fresh insights, the somewhat regular blog that once again, and again, has something passionate and meaningful to say – it’s time to move along. These things aren’t dealing with the real world. Your life isn’t an episode of Happy Days.
So, if your preacher lobes a dud from the pulpit two or three times in a row… If you find the leader of your bible study dry or uninteresting for a length of time… If the worship service fails to move you, as though that were the object of worship service in the first place… If your own personal journey of faith seems static or absent… None of this is really bad news. Give your pastor some grace. Give your bible study leaders some grace. Give yourself some grace.
Winter sucks and winter is hell and winter comes for us all one way or the other.
It snowed again last night. Not much, just a dusting, but I think it’s enough to give me good cause to go outside and cuss the sky.
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