Comfort and Joy

Snow, at last, illumines the gardenhood. I went out before the sun rose to clear the walks. The sky, a deep Virgin’s blue, was crowned by the waning crescent moon. It was cold enough to give the air weight. Still a northerner at heart, I revel in mornings like this and seem to require one to fully awaken the sense of wonder, gratitude, and awe that dance in the holiday spirit. Carols and lights and the scent of fir trees help, yet there’s nothing like snow.

Jacket over hoody, thick wool socks and mittens, my heaviest jeans. By the time the mountain and spired conifers were gilded, work had warmed me through. Scrape, toss, scrape, toss – there is a lot of sidewalk around this flat corner lot. I stilled my shoveling often, changing postures, admiring the light and the sugar-fine comforter settled over everything.

How is it that crystalized air, frigid white powder from deep space, and back-aching labor give rise to a sense of well-being and delight?

“Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.”

Indoors, Ed the arctic white cat, remains. He’s having nothing of this wintry weather and its shiny deposit. We slept like stones, me under and he atop three inches of down rolled out for the occasion. Instead of prowling the fence-line for thrills, he’s attacking the stuffed mouse, tossing, batting, pouncing, biting, rolling on his back and scratching it with all four paws. I admire his adaptability. He prefers expeditions beyond the backdoor. He also prefers certain temperatures and dry toes. He makes his own fun, finds the windows, kneads my lap. All, it seems, on his own terms.

Another lifetime ago, suffering from extreme seasonal affective disorder, the approach of Christmas sent me spiraling, and not upward. The pressures to be cheerful, to make gifts, to out-bake my mother-in-law all rode me hard. What I craved was quiet, intimacy, reflection, and beauty. What I engaged in was manic activity and too many well-fed conversations in overheated, brightly lit rooms.

In the year following my deepest depression, with all my body chemistry telling me to hunker down and my psyche wanting a cure, I chucked the baking and the gifts. Imagine the strangeness of such an abdication in a Christmas-crazed society. Well, desperate times call for something untried.

My hands empty and calendar clear, my bloodstream untroubled by sugar, I listened. The eternal theme of the season kept calling to me: the coming of light to a darkened world, hope to the darkened soul. I put on my snowshoes, and took myself into the mystery, the slumbering woods, the quiet. I trekked out of the comfort zone of making traditional merry and into the comfort that evidenced eternity, that yielded joy. My entire relationship to Winter and to its timeless holidays was transformed. I grew to love Winter and take comfort in the rest it afforded.

Now that I live in an urban forest, is it any wonder that I revel in a dark, snowy morning?

I confess, I still pressure myself to have a merry Christmas and contribute to the merriness of friends and family. I worry that I’ll spend the day alone, won’t get asked to parties and concerts, will spend too much money, forget or disappoint someone. Crazy, I know. Even worthless old habits die hard.

At least now I can do more than fret and compete in the “merry-thon”. I can wake up in the thinning darkness and, with a quiet playfulness, answer an invitation made by fresh snow out into the bleak midwinter garden to find shimmers of glory and glimmers of peace.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Blessed Solstice. Happy Hanukkah.

May you find comfort and joy.

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Edward the Handsome

Edward the Handsome, though snow-white, hasn’t an arctic bone in his feline body. It was officially cold in the gardenhood earlier this week, minus ten one morning. He asked politely to be let out the back door. Each time he stepped head and shoulders onto the stoop, lifted his nose for scents, and curled back around to the kitchen.

I had my suspicions, but never knew this about Ed. You see, he lived for 13 or so years with my dad. There, until last March, he played second, third, or fourth fiddle to the dogs. I didn’t see much of him when I visited. Since then we’ve had the chance to learn a lot about each other.

He had access to the outside world whenever he wanted it, through a pet door which Dad, stubborn spoiler of animals, duct taped open day and night. Pokey, the last of Dad’s canine companions, wouldn’t press through the plexiglass flaps. With the doors permanently open, Pokey could run out and bark at crows or squirrels whenever he pleased, and mice, racoons, and skunks found their way in to bowls of food and a litter of untouched treats and chews. What a nightmare.

Yet despite his low ranking, intruders to his safe place, and constant access to a world of other possibilities, Edward the Faithful stuck around. When Pokey departed, Ed lent Dad his furry and lanky self for petting, warmth, and comfort. Dad was mighty grateful. Later, when incontinence got the better of him, Dad would say he was wet and stinky because Eddy jumped on his tummy, releasing his bladder. It might have been a feeble story, but it was the only face-saving logic Dad had. Ed didn’t seem to take it personally.

Later, when Dad no longer had the wherewithal to object, the pet door was shut. Edward the Remaining learned to use it. That was my first witness to just how smart, or at least adaptable, Ed the cat is.

By then, sundowning syndrome disrupted what was left of Dad’s daily routine. In a large shaky script, Dad wrote “6:30 CHORES” on a sheet of paper and left it on the stove. These chores were feeding the birds and squirrels, taking a walk, and feeding Ed. Sadly, predictably, the note to self didn’t help. Ed got used to asking sweetly and getting fed by whichever child was on hand. And when he wasn’t out for a bit of sun and a roll in the dirt, Ed coiled and stretched next to Dad, in the double recliner in the TV room or on his bed. Then, only on his bed.

Ed snuggled next to Dad’s left hip through the wee hours of the Wednesday morning when a thundering wind helped Dad fly home.

The moon-white cat has lived in this tiny, flat-roofed house for a month now. He’s been a good sport, considering. He’s had to teach me a few things, too. For starters, the expensive good-for-the-senior-kitty food – both kibble and canned – simply won’t do. “Give me what Ol’ Merlie gave me, or I won’t eat.” The message was clear. Secondly, all the enrichment in the world doesn’t equal the thrill of being terrified by a flock of geese chatting as they wing over. “Trust me. I’ll be careful. But unless I go outside, I will refuse to thrive.” Not at all last is this: “Petting is done on my time. I initiate.”

He’s made a few concessions and even some pleasant discoveries. He accepts that canned food comes twice a day and kibble is nibbled in between. He watches the cursor dash about the computer screen. Toys are actually fun. Catnip rocks. In his old house, the curtains were always drawn and the windows high and practically without sills. Here, windows are better than TV for entertainment, and the sun comes through them, too.

Edward the Comfortable has found every sunny spot and moves from one to the next as they change. He has also discovered my lap. Although his new and oddly familiar person doesn’t sit still nearly as long nor as regularly as Ol’ Merlie, which is somewhat annoying to the boy, he often prefers my lap to sofas, chairs, or the bed.

This morning before sunrise, Ed and I both stepped onto the back stoop. He jumped down for his morning roll, and I wondered at the moon being bitten into a crescent by the shadow of the earth. What glow remained reflected the early evening light half-way around the world. I marveled at the dance of orbs, of light chasing dark chasing light, the wholeness and perfection of it all. The urge rose to run back in and call Dad to have him step outside and share the eclipse. I don’t imagine that urge will ever go away.

Instead, after his promised careful perusal of the back yard, Edward the Handsome ran up the straight walk from the shed to the stoop. We both went inside to warm up and welcome the dawn.