by James LaForest
The long nights of mid winter are drifting slowly by. Bellies full of boiled dinner, cabbage, potato, carrot (roots) and molten blueberries, last summer’s, bursting under crumble. It’s time to linger near the fire, the radiator, under the wool blankets, head upon a feather pillow, gathering dreams. If I’m not in bed by 10 o’clock, something seems wrong. It’s time to sleep, winter’s sleep.
I often wonder what our ancestors did to pass the time, before modern entertainment let us pass the hours with a myriad of games at our fingertips and chats with friends in far off time zones. They had playing cards, paper, perhaps a book if they could read, maybe a violin. Were they more imaginative? Did they create stories out of thin air, embellishing year by year as children gathered. How many generations and families created le Nain Rouge and the Chasse-Galerie over wintry nights?
Chores, cooking, tending animals, building up fuel for the fire must have taken up long hours exhausting everyone, to be rewarded but meager rations. What chores have we? Ours is a buffet of choices unimaginable to them. Snow blowers and microwaves. Canned soup. Fresh greens all winter and a hundred kinds of beer. Meat, and plenty of it. No moldering apples and frozen potatoes. Now, I consider myself lucky to find apples from Michigan or Wisconsin, stored over the months.
But these winter nights are full of promise. What plans I’ve had! I’ll complete the jigsaw puzzle and read the books I neglected during distant Christmas merriment! Then, television takes over. I nod off as Jacques Pépin makes dinner and lingers over his memories of old France. One night though I’ll have a thought. I’ll brave the turned-down heat, and stay up late. A treat: a dram (or two) of scotch, my favorite old ghost stories, a flickering candle in the window. “The Lame Priest”, “The Tapestried Chamber”, “The Room in the Dragon Volant” on well-turned pages. There are not enough nights like these.
It is mid winter. My inbox is full of French-Canadian genealogy. I drink to our santé over beer with visitors from Quebec, sur la route (on the road) to North Dakota. Mid winter, and they are still traveling. We Canayens are always traveling. Still voyageurs. I long again to return home to our three-foot snowdrifts and lumber through the marsh on my raquettes (snowshoes). These are the nights I mentally trace the journeys of my ancestors on summer’s open waterways. Thousands of miles they traveled, only with strong arms and a breeze (“souffle, souffle la vieille”). Riverine worlds are mapped in my memory DNA, always to remember.
Gazing out the window, snow swirling down in city streetlights, we sit tight. Dreams of gardening have begun. Something deep inside is sprouting. But not yet. Dormant lie spring flowers, and sap’s not running. We rely even now on winter stores, imaginary mostly, to weather hibernal squals. Nourished by memories, we survive. And the beauty of mid winter is a gift, its long nights slowing drifting by.