Our once busy front yard bird feeder has grown silent. Usually there is a mix of winter residents such as nuthatches, chickadees, and other feathered friends who visit. Not this year.
Starting late summer we noticed decreased bird activity. Daily sightings dwindled until only ground feeders like the doves would appear. There was a flurry of pine siskins at one point but they are long gone.
We have missed our birds and are perplexed by their disappearance. Research shows bird traffic in some areas has diminished. Are birds deciding to isolate as well?
My solution? A faux bird. It permanently perches at the feeder and almost fools me that our birdie friends are somewhere out there.
Anyone else missing their usual mix of backyard birds?
Shakespeare must have experienced a few discouraging winters when he penned the lines for Richard III: “The winter of our discontent.”
Although the line is more metaphorical than literal, concerning rulership and kingly reign, it is a line that reverberates and has been applied to other aspects. Britain claimed in the late seventies with strikes occurring during a freezing winter, and Steinbeck borrowed it as well.
However, Shakespeare’s line aptly fits my present state of mind. Our corner of the world has experienced a ramshackle winter of excessive snowfall followed by excessive rain, which makes for interesting conditions—much like existing in a 7-11 Slurpee cup. Then there is the continuous grey or gray, if you prefer, days. The sky casts the muted shades of blahness, and the snow is no longer a cheery pristine. I call January and February the Oatmeal Days of winter: gray and lumpy all around.
Not that I really believe in the predictions of Old Puxy, but it’s some kind of wonderful when the thought of spring is that much closer. The first Sunday of February made me a believer of prognosticating groundhogs as blue skies and sunshine greeted the day. Even though it was a bracing 36 degrees, I bundled up and sat outside and soaked up as much heliotherapy as I could before the chill penetrated my enjoyment.
And then the respite ended. Back to the slog of rain and snow, which triggers my discontent.
Having had that momentary blue sky day, I realized it’s not the snow that undermines my temporal happiness– it’s the lack of color. The sameness everyday is a mood quencher. Therefore, I have devised my own therapy.
If I can’t count on blue sky winters I will bring color to my own delight.
These attempts to brighten my outlook seem to help, especially when I see the forecast is once again gloomy. Winter can create discontent, yet I can always add a little color content to become content.
Ah, January. Mixed feelings about this calendar month. While I embrace turning the corner into a new year with all that freshness and anticipation that goes with flipping to a new date, I do not embrace how January in our parts is the “definitely winter is here” month. For instance:
Overnight storm compilation. More to come *sigh*
A bit of the doldrums occur in January, what with the cold weather, shorter days, lack of landscape color, and growing stack of assignments to grade as the semester’s close approaches.
This month’s collection of words calls for amusing, or downright quirky lexicon.
1. pawky: cunning, sly
2. pettifog: to bicker or quibble over insignificant matters
3. jactation: boasting; bragging
4. fecund: creative intellectually
5. appellative: a descriptive name as Reepicheep the Valiant
6. orgulous: haughty; proud
7. remora: hindrance or obstacle
8. fulgrant: flashing like lightning
9. omphaloskepsis: contemplating one’s navel
10. daffing: merriment; playful behavior
Hmm, during the remainder of January I shall endeavor to be pawky in how to approach my doldrums in order to avoid fulgrant irritability that leads to pettifog since an abundance of snow is a remora to becoming fecund.Perhaps I shall become so stoic and earn an appellative name: Cricket the Winter Muse, then again that might entail jactation leading to an orgulous reputation. On the other hand excess winter could cause my resolve to slip into dithering and omphaloskepsis.
November is a conundrum, being a month that offers a mixture of pleasantries and of trauma.
First off, how can one hour wreak absolute havoc? The bonus of getting extra sleep when setting the clock back one hour quickly becomes a bad trade off since my body clock doesn’t easily adjust.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t need to set an alarm clock. No matter when I go to bed I wake up at 5 am. Sleeping in is an ideal, not a reality. DST now creates the dilemma of the time read on my bedside table blaring “4 am” in red LED numerals. Gah.
It takes until spring, about the time we spring forward, that my body clock reconciles the hour difference.
Another November trial is PTC—Parent Teacher Conferences. Our district provides two nights (after working a full day) where teachers are available to parents. As much as I enjoy meeting parents, it’s a tough schedule, especially since that hour sleep deprivation is amplified by a week. I hope parents don’t think their student’s teacher is a zombie because after a week of disturbed sleep cycle I am definitely feeling zombi-ish.
Fortunately, the long two days trades out nicely as it applies to two days off which coincides with Thanksgiving week. Having a week off after PTC while dealing with DST having graded a stack of SPRPs (Senior Project Research Papers) is definitely appreciated.
And I do enjoy thanksgiving. No holiday shopping hype. No endless rounds of obligatory events to attend. No gifts to stress about. Nope. Food, friends, family. Now, that’s what I call a grand holiday.
One another aspect of November that is irksome is the night factor. Having the sunset earlier and earlier each night means driving home in the dark which initiates the feeling I’m working the swing swift in the coal mines. After working inside all day stepping outside into the light is a necessity. Good thing D3 is inexpensive and I thank whomever for inventing the Happy Light.
November also begins the season which features that four letter word, and its presence stays among us much too long in the area of which I call home. Shiver, shudder, and grumble.
So—November is a bit of a trial, yet knowing there is a pumpkin pie waiting for me at the end of the month makes losing sleep, grading papers, working two twelve hour days, and dealing with that which shall not be named, a bit easier to swallow.
The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio: Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.
Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?
I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witchupon his entry into Narnia.
Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.
Let the quibbling begin!
First off, a definition of ominous is needed:
om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.
For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.
In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.
In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.
Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).
This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.
I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.
Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.
Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.
Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—
Cricket’s Rebuttal: Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.
Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?
Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.
Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”
Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.
My quibble for you:
Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!
And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.
Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?
Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.
December. Oh, December. How colorful, your days are bright. With evergreen and flashy lights, your lengthy nights are cozy bright. December. Oh, December. Your passing will soon bring June.
Don’t get me wrong. December is fairly pleasant, considering all the snow that must be dealt with. Decorations, festivities, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Break. I like December much more than January. But that is next month. This month let’s focus on the bright, brilliant, and happy of the Christmas month.
Valentine’s Day reset winter by delivering eight inches of snow. I would have preferred a FDT delivery of daffodils.
I am in need of spring, that event that is a long time in finally appearing, where greenery festoons the landscape instead of mutations of whiteness. Snow is no longer pretty after three months, after it’s been shoveled, blowed, and pushed about.
February’s snow tends to be fickle. It doesn’t quite have the tenacity of January’s snow days. It’s vacillating between being fiercely winter and nicely spring. It’s as if it is acknowledging March is on the move and will definitely arrive with a spring in its step. Forget about that woodchuck and his shadowy ideas about how long we have to wait for spring. Keep him sleeping, thanks.
Last week’s unexpected snow day led me to build my annual snow guy. My students liked my snowman show and tell photo, and one class named him Perceval–Percy among his friends.
As the snow continues to fall, and continues to hamper greener days from arriving, I thought it appropriate to dust off my snow terms list:
▪ lookitsnow: first snow of the season–Nov/Dec
▪ itzsnowing: comment of the day until mid-January
▪ ucksnow: bridge between Jan/Feb when people begin getting weary of shoveling, scraping, and slipping around in the stuff
▪ snizzle: the on off dance of snow and rain found in late February
▪ snain: a more serious form of snizzle
▪ smush: slushy snow of Feb/Mar
▪ smud: ground showing with snow patches, squashy walking usually around early March
▪ ohnosnow: snow when daffs coming up and flakes coming down in March/April
▪ nomohsnow: snowfall and meltaway tease of April/May
(some days there is the occasional variety to the landscape)
Between the rain and the uptick in warmer temperatures the landscape had shed its blanket of winter white. I was thrilled.
Snow is fine as long as it stays in the mountains. Let the skiers rejoice. Unfortunately, snow is pervasive and usually hangs around for four months, barely leaving until the daffodils give hint of their arrival in April.
Valentine’s day provided a mixed blick. A reset button of eight inches of snow created a snow day from school (yay!), but winter is back (blick!).
On the positive side I was able to rest and read and grade and beat back yet another round of getting sick. And when life hands you snowyou make a snowman.
Hope your Valentine’s day was delightful, and I hope your winter is going well.
I live in an area that definitely provides all four seasons–five, if mud, the one between winter and spring, counts. I couldn’t imagine living in an area where reading about snow through a Robert Frost poems is the closest a student would get to experiencing it. Although I am definitely not a fan of snow, it’s tedious place in our seasonal line up reminds me how much I appreciate the wondrous, warm, sunny days once they again make their appearance.
To days and lives spent in the false days of winter provided by glimpses of bad weather here is a poem that explores snow from a different perspective:
January is a paradox for me. It’s both the longest month and shortest month. It seems long due to the dark and dreary everlasting winter days, yet short because of looming finals, grading papers, and preparing lessons for second semester. This is why I’m a fan of February. I could say it’s because February is the shortest month which means I’m that much closer to June and summer break. It could be because it’s the month of Valentine’s Day, and who doesn’t appreciate a holiday filled with love and chocolate?
I actually favor February because it’s a month that is filled with hope. Days are getting longer, snow is giving away to grassy patches, there is the sense of completing another school year as graduation day is nearer on the horizon. There is also the moment of pause to think, “This year will be even better than last year.”
To celebrate this feeling of hope, the Poem of the Month is “To Hope” by Charlotte Smith
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the wither’d rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,