An Iron Country

“It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever.”

– Willa Cather, O Pioneers, 139.

January, month of Janus, who had two faces, one which looked backward and one which looked forward. He was a caretaker, a guardian of doorways. January, the month that gets rid of the old year and brings in the new. Also, the month where winter truly settles in and, as dear Willa Cather wrote so beautifully, “the spirit is oppressed.” At least, it seems that way.

In Saskatchewan, winter is a trial. An endurance test. Whiteout blizzards, 40 below, winds that slash your face and frost that will bite your skin. It’s all true, sometimes. This January has been strange. For two weeks, temperatures were above 0 degrees. El Niño or climate change or just irregularity, I’m not sure. It was strange though. Especially when one simply expects January to be difficult.

Winter is a struggle for me, as it is for so many. But in Saskatchewan, it’s so much a part of who we are. In the past, winter defined life all year round. The other three seasons were spent in preparation to survive it. Even now with our furnaces and cars and well-stocked grocery stores and trips to hot destinations, winter defines us. It is so long, so dark, so drab, so dry.

Creativity can come at any time of year, but in winter mine struggles to come to the surface. Right now and for the past while, I’ve not felt like creating anything, though not because I haven’t been inspired. There were a couple of weeks early in the month where timing was sweet enough to schedule my daily commute so that I drove into the sunrise every morning and into the sunset every evening.

The sky is inspiring every season, perhaps even more so in the winter. The horizon, so obviously round here in the flatlands, was a gradient of crimson, to golden pink, to mauve and darkening into deep plum twilight in the east. I did take photographs, but due to some tragic malfunction of Mercury (he’s travelling backwards just now), my flash card erased everything from the past month.

But still, I got to drink in the beauty of winter light with my own eyes, and it did settle into my soul nicely. So yes, inspiration abounds. Especially from the words of others. In winter, my own writing recedes as I soak up the words of books, my favourite form of nourishment. I take them in and let them brew and ferment and wait. And sometimes, like today, I have a sudden impulse to write something of my own.

So no photos to document this past month of beautiful winter light. Thankfully, nothing to document the past month of struggling to see the light, to feel warm (even on those unseasonally warm days) in this iron country. But, like iron, we who live here are strong. We always get through it.

After all, is cold not just an absence of heat? Much like darkness is merely an absence of light. The sun, old Helios up in the sky, is an unfailing cure for both, and he does not stay away from Saskatchewan during the winter, even on the days with the least warmth.

Some photos from December 2013.

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