Attention. Shhhh…..

I woke up this morning, for some reason, at about 6:15, a good hour before I usually do. However, my Best Beloved was on his way out to NYC for a couple of days, and perhaps something in me just wanted to give him a big kiss before he left. I hate having him go, I miss him when he’s gone, and yet the truth is, I also love the silence of an empty house.

In fact, I’m a big fan of solitude in general, although I recognize that my sort of solitude, self-chosen, and with the knowledge that my Best Beloved is coming home soon, is a luxury sort of solitude.

But I do relish it.

I went down stairs and made myself a cup of coffee with vanilla creamer. I listened to the rain and wind. They say on the radio we’re in for a blustery day, which is just the sort I love. I sat in the dark of my office, turned on a lamp and picked up Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners.

“People without hope,” says O’Connor, “do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality, and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal. People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is the refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.”

Well, that’ll set off a day.

As the light changed from black to gray, indicating a rising sun (although I’ll have to take that on faith since I couldn’t actually SEE the sun rising, only the evidence of its rising), oddly, the temperature dropped. What had been rain was turning to sleet, and after a few minutes of loitering about in that not-rain-not-snow stage, it made up it’s mind and turned to snow.

How fabulous!!! Okay, it isn’t staying on the ground, and I know it won’t last, but oh, such a joy.

What is it about snow I adore so much? I don’t ski. I hate to be cold. I live with a hot-water bottle against my stomach for most of the winter.

But there is an undeniable invitation in snow. I listened for what it might be saying. I took my coffee, lit the fire in the sitting room and popped in a DVD I’ve long been meaning to watch, called Into Great Silence. A film by Philip Groning, it films the monks of the Grand Chartreuse Monastery, in the French Alps, not far from where I once lived.

The Grand Chartreuse Monastery in winter

Without artificial lighting or crew, Groning filmed the monks daily prayers, tasks, rituals and so forth. There is no score, no voice-over and no archival footage. It is simply a window into one of the most ascetic monasteries in the world. Hushed. Reverant. Mesmerizing.

A man in a white robe prays in silence. His shaved head is bowed.

The room is spare — a wooden prayer bench, a stove with a cup on top, a window onto a winter landscape.

Outside the snow falls, coating the trees, the monastery’s roof, the pathways with white.

Hushing the world. A flame flickers. A bell tolls as the monks walk down stone corridors to matins.

As I watch these quiet men and the snow falling outside their windows, the flicker of their candles, I am also aware of the snow outside my own window, the flicker of the fire’s flame, the scent of the coffee, the coolness of the leather on the chair arm.

Then, I want more quiet. I turn the set off. I move to the breakfast room, with the great picture window out into the back garden. The snow falls. The grass is still green. The trunk of the lightning-struck silver maple is black, grey where the storm-blast scarred it. Small birds have come to the feeder. No, not just birds, they become specific to me – a tufted titmouse, a black-capped chickadee, a blue-jay, a winter wren. The birch tree’s white trunk is in the foreground, and above sways a bough of golden leaves from a high branch. Gold with just a tinge of green on the higher leaves. The birch, I think, is very old, at least thirty-five years, and this year it showed signs of old age – dead limbs, fewer leaves. Soon, I know, it will not be with us any more. Maybe next year. The year after, almost certainly. I fix this golden bough in my mind. I notice it in a way I usually don’t, all the more precious for it’s mortality.

And perhaps, I think, that is the invitation of snow, of winter. I go to the kitchen to get more coffee. As I open the refrigerator for the cream, my eyes fall on the letters on a juice bottle —

“settling is natural”

I laugh. Snow. Quiet. Hush. A plunge into reality. A slide into present tense.

Flannery O’Conner would, I think, be pleased.

Copyright 2008 Lauren B. Davis For permissions:

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