The Magic of Late Winter, Part III: Guest Post by Reagan Dregge and Kristen Kopp

Sunset over snow-covered trees
Photo by Kristen Kopp

This blog series on the magic of late winter has been a cross-country exploration of regional beauty – Kimberly Margaret Miller gave me a glimpse of winter sunlight in the deep South, and Loren Warnemuende showed me the snow and flowering dogwoods of southeast Michigan. This week’s post is written by Reagan Dregge, with pictures by Kristen Kopp. These writers are from Minnesota, the prairie, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent a year On the Banks of Plum Creek and temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (wind chill can drop to -68 degrees).

Reagan Dregge‘s breathtaking imagery reminds me that we live in a world of wonders, a place just as wild and magical as Faerie. Kristen Kopp‘s images remind me to open my eyes to the beauty of the ordinary, the precious gift of snow and sunlight, leaf and sky. Enjoy!

Winter Magic

by Reagan Dregge
pictures by Kristen Kopp

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.
Annie Dillard

By late winter the air is scorched ice. The snowscape is sucked dry, colorless. Lungs burn. Skin stings. The ground is a slick slab of sheer adamant. Frost laces windowpanes like fractures into faerie. The frozen world is transparent. I can see through every stilled molecule, through trees that crack the sky, through the thin atmosphere all the way to the Milky Way wrapped like a scarf around our galaxy. The frigid stars blaze bright and sharp. I imagine standing on the surface of the moon. The constellations spin above in dazzling clarity.

Have you beheld a sundog-flanked dawn? The sun, shattered into shards? Three fire pillars pierce the cobalt firmament, diamond guardians of earth’s rim, or an archangel with two swords barring reentry into paradise? On winter evenings, neons melt on the horizon. Charged particles scatter solar flame. Unnamed, unnumbered hues are born in the bent beams, next to which rainbows are a faded polaroid.

Bitter winds writhe and moan across the plains. Windows rattle, porch bells ring. The shrill surgeon slashes and severs, casting withered sticks and shriveled limbs across the brittle bier beneath attending silver maples. Huddled hedges offer brief respite from the biting chill. Fog’s froth condenses and crystallizes, coating every stem, twig, and chain link with rime ice armor. Glass-sheathed grass sheaves gather at the edge of ditches. Lake waves freeze into a gleaming fleet of fairy sails. The cold cuts words short, and they drop to the ground like bubbles blown in subzero temps or evaporate instantaneously like a pot of boiling water thrown into the air. Weather fluctuations can be detected in the length of icicles dangling from every lip and gable, dripping into their own trenches or dropping like grenades in the night.

Spread out under an open sky the snow sparkles like champagne, and in the crisp gold light a toast is raised. Blizzards blow across the plains, covering forest and field with mountainous shifting drifts. The polar vortex unfurls its coffers and foams forth layer after layer over the bounding breadth. Clusters of vapor flurry and fall, spun and splintered and studded. No two alike, each flake a delicate intricacy. They melt the moment they touch tongue or alight eyelash, existing brief as a breath, fleeting as a flower. From wet heft to pellet sleet, snow’s forms are as bottomless as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. The sounds of my walk down our quarter-mile driveway change with every day: creak, crunch, slurp, slush, swish, sweep, whisper-soft absorption.

Deep within the frozen earth, amphibians sleep in soundless stasis. Bird and butterfly have long since flown south, but woodpeckers and white-tailed deer remain, subsisting on bark and acorns. Rabbits and mice trace patterns in the morning dusting. I once saw a hawk’s wingprint stamped in a snowbank. Wisdom and miracle abound in this stark and solitary season.

To those who find winter blank and monotonous: you must write your psalm and I must write mine. There is glory hidden in the gray—look for it when the cold burns and the light dims. Look, and you will find winter crowning the year, robed in alabaster, strewn with rubies, fragrant as juniper, fresh as citrus, warm as cinnamon.

Reagan Dregge and her family

Reagan Dregge
Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.

Kristen Kopp

Kristen Kopp
Kristen lives in a cottage on the prairies of Southern Minnesota. She works in her local Community Development Department by day and spends the rest of her time wandering in the woods, writing letters, and gathering with friends and family to share meals and play board games. Follow her on Instagram at @kristenannakopp.

Musings from the UK: Oxford

On June 2nd, I flew back from a week in the UK – exhausted, content, pondering, and with a renewed sense of yearning. May was an intense month of travel (Colorado Springs, Denver, Pennsylvania, and then the UK) and I was more than ready to come home.

But it was beautiful. The rich history and traditions of Oxford, the mysterious beauty of the Lake District, the medieval look and modern busyness of Edinburgh, and the green peace of Durham gave me images and insights enough to ponder for a long time. I still need to sift through my hundreds of pictures and thoughts, but at first glance, here are a few things I discovered.

Oxford

Oxford has layers of loveliness: the old beauty of stone walls, buildings, spires, and statues, all covered in the fresh spring beauty of yellow roses, green ivy, and flowering vines. We walked through the green parks every day, dodging bikes and other foot travelers, listening to birds cooing in the trees and watching ducks, swans, and ravens hop around among the lilly pads and cattails in ponds.

The town was full of tourists like us, the murmur of many languages, and students in black robes. We got chai tea and Italian hot chocolate (my life will never be the same) at a tea shop, wandered through a curio/bookshop full of quill pens and gilded masks, and explored the stalls of the Covered Market.

We heard echoes and whispers of the spirit of Oxford. The town and university are centered on thought leadership and intellectual discovery, but remember faith: we attended a lecture on “The Failures of Political Journalism” at Green Templeton college, wandered through the University Church of St. Mary, went to exhibitions on language and 3-D images at the Weston Library and Museum of the History of Science, and enjoyed an Evensong at Magdalen College.

Every day brought so much to ponder and so much to enjoy. I’ll reference this trip in many future posts, but for now, I came away with some important resolutions:

Enjoy nearby beauty

Oxford was breathtaking with its ancient stonework, glassy rivers, yellow roses, and silver skies. But I had a recurring realization: New England is just as beautiful: its starry mayflowers and pert black-capped chickadees, fragrant beach-roses and green maple trees. Though traveling is great in many ways, I only need to step out my front door to see beauty. I need to value the treasures around me, not just those that are far away.

Seek unity in diversity

Most of the “content” we found at Oxford in lectures and exhibitions presented a set of different opinions on each topic, without identifying any as primary or true. Diversity, inclusion, and redefinition (breaking down old meanings of humanity, gender, faith, language, science,etc.) were celebrated as the highest good.

I love listening to people who are different from me, being sharpened as iron sharpens iron. But I believe that the highest good is celebrating true things, not just different things. The original purpose of universities was to seek unity in diversity, with every individual discipline striving together to unravel mysteries. I yearn to seek transcendent, unifying truth, Wisdom, in literature, art, language, and theology, and from people of all nations, backgrounds, and experiences.

Burn bright in darkness; cultivate in the desert

While rushing to the lecture, we had two minutes to duck into the Eagle and Child Pub, were Lewis, Tolkien, and the Inklings used to meet. My glimpse of the place stayed with me: dark, tiny rooms dimly lit by light bulbs, with barely enough places to squeeze faded armchairs beside brick fireplaces. The famous Rabbit Room was plain, with only a wooden table that may have seated five.

Lewis and Tolkien lived in a dark time: through the blood, fire, and fear of two world wars, sickness, grief, and a growing cynicism and loss of belief. But in imitation of God in Genesis 1, they spoke worlds into being: stories that acknowledge darkness and despair, but burned bright with love, beauty, and hope. The Inklings’ fellowship by the fire nurtured friendships, creativity, and joy that they poured out in stories that still kindle imaginations today.

The Christological center of Lewis and Tolkien’s imaginations stirred me deeper still. People of different faiths or no faith at all (like George R.R. Martin, Philip Pullman, Tamora Pierce, and Patricia McKillip) can also imagine worlds into being. But the narrative of an all-powerful, loving Redeemer who sacrificed Himself for humanity is the greatest Story; all other good stories echo it.

The world is still dark – maybe darker – today. But there are many light-bearers and dream-cultivators, people of strong faith and abundant imaginations, in Oxford (including Michael Ward, Sarah Clarkson, Joy Clarkson, and many others), in New England, and in the whole world. I can’t wait to discover more of them.

Reflections on the STC Conference 2019

Denver, Colorado in the rain.

In the gray days of February and March this year, I realized that the two conferences I wanted to go to in the spring were both in Colorado, both concerning writers, within a week of each other.

I returned home after the first one last week, the Imagination Redeemed conference. On Sunday, I flew out to Denver again for the Society for Technical Communication (STC) conference and returned late on Wednesday night.

The Imagination Redeemed conference was in Colorado Springs, that blooming valley in the mountains; the STC conference was in downtown Denver, where the brick-and-stone buildings were too short to block the rain-gray sky (unlike the dark skyscrapers of Manhattan – I couldn’t help comparing), and trees with bright green leaves or fresh blossoms dotted the sidewalks.

Though I didn’t plan to attend two conferences back-to-back, and my head spun with altitude sickness the first night and day, comparing the two gatherings was fascinating. Both organizations attract thoughtful, creative, and dedicated communicators who want to hone their craft and connect with people like them.

The STC is made of technical communicators, who help their coworkers or customers understand and use technical information: technical writers and editors, librarians, instructional designers, content strategists, and information architects from software, manufacturing, medicine, business and finance, and other industries.

As technical communicators (I’m a technical writer), we work with brilliant people – software developers, engineers, mechanics, architects, and others – to translate their complex knowledge into simple steps for audiences who benefit from their work. I attended sessions about integrating images and text, the power of story, career planning, best practices of knowledge management, and more.

The Imagination Redeemed conference focused on faith and beauty, imagination and worship; the STC conference focused on transforming the creations of geniuses into plain language and clear concepts. These gatherings represent two sides of my mind and heart that I’m cultivating in work and in play, united by a growing sense of yearning: I long to be a messenger, a world-maker, teacher, and healer through my writing, in my job and my own work.

Soon, I hope to write about how technical writing is so much more than the boring manual-writing I though it would be: how it’s as challenging, inspiring, and wonder-ful (in the old sense of the world) as studying English literature. For now, here are some resolutions as a technical writer to match the ones I made at the Anselm Society conference:

Tell stories for good – The STC conference reaffirmed what I already knew: that stories are powerful. From a technical writing perspective, stories help people understand complex concepts (think of how some people can remember all the plot threads in the Marvel universe) and remember important information. As a technical writer, I want to tell stories for good, to help people gain the knowledge they need to thrive.

Critical consumerism – One of the last speakers at the conference described how we can be critical consumers, thoughtfully examining the evidence to evaluate claims and rationales. Does the speaker’s conclusion exaggerate the evidence or ignore key findings? In the workplace and the rest of my life, training myself to examine evidence will guard me against misconceptions and manipulation.

Wonder in the ordinary – Several speakers emphasized the ancient roots of technical writing: from cairns marking paths in the mountains, to cave paintings, to medieval manuscripts, humans have been teaching each other to do complicated tasks since the beginning of time. I used to think technical writing was dull work, typing up thick manuals of small black text that no one wanted to read. Over this year, I’ve tasted the joy of learning how to uncover the creative genius of software developers and communicate it to non-experts: detective work as close to my childhood dreams of being Nancy Drew as I’ll probably get in real life.

It’s good to find wonder in your work; good to sit in awe of the mind of the Creator as you see the beauty of the human mind in lines of software code, or complex machinery, or the rhythm of a sonnet. In my technical and creative writing, I want to awaken that wonder in others.

My real vocation – A speaker on a podcast I listened to yesterday said that “you work to feed your dream, and then you work on your dream to feed your everyday work” (clumsy paraphrase). Am I a technical writer in the “real world,” to earn a living, or am I “really” a creative writer who has a day job so she can eat? Both – maybe not forever, but for this season, my real vocation is to become skilled at both types of writing.

But I’m back to New England again, at least for a few weeks. The cherry trees are blossoming in bright pink clusters; the rest of the leaves are peeking from the edges of tree-fingers; and I can walk along the beach at sunset with my sister and talk about life. Summer is stirring, and I have writing to do.

White blossoms on a branch.

Meditations on the Imagination Redeemed 2019

Glen Eyrie, a castle in the mountains.
Glen Eyrie

On Monday morning, I flew back to New England from the Imagination Redeemed conference in Colorado Springs – exhausted, full, and inspired. The conference was hosted by the Anselm Society, which hopes to spark a “renaissance of the Christian imagination” – a new understanding between the Church and the arts of how we can glorify God through visual art, music, literature, poetry, theater, and dance.

The conference was a feast of wisdom and fellowship. Scholars, artists, teachers, and writers discussed re-enchanting the church, medieval cosmology, sacred art, the moral imagination, writing as image-bearing, and more. I had wonderful talks with fellow attendees – writers, artists, ballet teachers, graduate students, opera singers, and others – about their work.

I’m tired. The richness of ideas and insights was overwhelming, and the red-eye return left me barely holding onto consciousness (my first all-nighter ever). But I’m also encouraged and inspired to meet so many people who are doing what I want to do, or share my ambitions: to glorify God through my art, to create and cultivate beauty, to share wisdom and joy through retelling God’s story.

I’ll probably reference the conference many times in future blog posts, but for now, I’ll share some of the goals the conference inspired:

Write – Heidi White’s talk about creating art inspired me to pour out essays, short stories, and books with greater courage, even if my words are only read by a few, because I’m not writing for my own fame or glory, but God’s. Lanier Ivester’s sonnet-writing workshop encouraged me to capture the inexpressible with imagery and challenge myself to greater creativity with meter and rhyme. Lancia Smith’s discussion of writing as image-bearing motivated me to bear or “bring forth” transcendent truths in stories.

Explore how my doctrinal beliefs shape me and my art – Though all the speakers were Christians, many came from an Anglican or Catholic background and discussed doctrines or practices that are outside of my faith tradition, including sacramental theology, a division between the clergy and the laity, and liturgy. Though Christians are all united by the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit, doctrinal differences like these do shape our thinking and behavior. I want to explore my own theological framework to ensure that it is Biblically grounded and see how it affects my imagination, writing, and life choices.

Connect with other artists – I had so much fun meeting people who spoke my language, who know and love the same stories, who have similar dreams and challenges. Though I can travel to connect with other artists and writers, I would love to engage in that community here in New England, where geographical closeness makes it easier to build relationships.

Study – The speakers introduced me to so many fascinating ideas: musica mundana (medieval cosmology – “the music of the spheres”), kairos vs. chronos time, and more. I want to relearn Latin, study New Testament Greek, and read dozens of books and articles – a huge task, but all things I can accomplish eventually.

Engage with the Word – Junius Johnson, one of the speakers, encouraged artists and theologians to intentionally connect with each other. Theology is one of the best sources of inspiration, and art is a beautiful way to worship. I want to study the Bible deeply, reverently, and joyfully to better express God’s love and wisdom in my writing.

After learning so much and meeting so many wonderful people at the conference, I got to enjoy the beauty of Colorado Springs: Pike’s Peak shining with snow above the dark ridges of other mountains; Glen Eyrie castle tucked in a green valley; the Garden of the Gods, huge red rocks towering over the hills.

But it’s good to come home. In New England, soft pink buds are opening in the cherry trees, and new leaves are coming out in Scottish green. I’m tired, but full – eager to learn, to study, and to write stories of yearning.

The Magic of the Ordinary

New York City skyline in the glow of sunset.

Nurtured by books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, I used to believe that modern technology has no place in literature. Medieval technology such as swords and ploughs, and maybe even Industrial Revolution technology like trains and mills, were acceptable, but nothing later than 1920s-era technology belonged in books.

My logic for this assumption ran deep into my beliefs about stories. I believed that stories were the exclusive realm of the mythical and the wonderful: ancient forests, splendid castles, beautiful princesses, and so on. As an avenue of the imagination, stories should be above the minor, ugly details of life, like technology.

This subconscious assumption ignored the wonderful details of ordinary life which Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Edward Eager, Edward Ormondroyd, E. Nesbit, and others use. In Lewis’s Prince Caspian, Edmund remarks that being summoned from England by a spell without warning is “worse than what father says about being at the mercy of the telephone.” Ormondroyd uses an elevator as a key part of his Time at the Top

Mentioning current technology also gives stories the precious stamp of regionalism – memorializing a certain place and time so readers can visit it. Now, I love tasting the flavor of past decades through references to slates and record albums.

My assumption also glossed over the very real fact that swords and ploughs, trains and mills were just as boring and ordinary to our predecessors as subways and cell phones are to us. For all their mythology, swords are really just romanticized pieces of metal.

G.K. Chesterton explains this phenomenon of ignoring the romance of the present with reference to modern-day detective stories. He praised detective stories for capturing

. . . some sense of the poetry of modern life. Men lived among mighty mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realized that they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountain-peaks, and find the lamp-posts as old and natural as the trees. (from here)

The storytellers from whom the Grimm brothers gleaned their material wove their tales with commonplace objects. Spindles are immortal because of Sleeping Beauty, but they were as normal as cars or coffee pots to the people who used them daily.

Chesterton’s perspective reveals the amazing possibilities of our world. We don’t need to reuse crowns and Gothic castles to spice up our stories (at least, not all the time). Why not mythologize Brooklyn apartments and Iphones? 

The technology of our day has near-magical capabilities. Google puts a world of knowledge at our fingertips; planes let us fly over thousands of miles in a single day.

With that in mind, I’ve put some story ideas below which realize a few possibilities of modern technology, the way fairy tales used magic rings or carpets:

  • Glitch in one particular Iphone which lets the user call other dimensions
  • Car (specific make and model) with a radio which begins receiving messages for help from another world/time
  • Computer virus which spreads a real, biological virus via the Internet
  • Windmills which were made not to generate clean energy, but to guard against holes in Earth’s magical atmospheric shield
  • Subway train which gets lost and discovers a network of caves full of secrets (treasure, ancient warnings about disasters, lost civilizations, etc.)
  • Stopwatch which begins to count down the days/hours/minutes until the next terrorist attack
  • Energy beings (aliens?) which communicate with the entire country using the powerlines

Material: The Ordinary and the Exotic

Hallway in Versailles.

Last year, I set out on the noble, if reckless, task of reading through my old school anthology of Romantic Literature from cover to cover. I loved the course, and the sight of the book sitting unread on my shelf filled me with so much guilt that I finally gave in. It’s alphabetical (sort of), and William Blake nearly overwhelmed me – his language! His images! I haven’t lingered on each poem as long or thoroughly as a worthy scholar would, but I’ve begun to pick up a certain pattern between Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Sir William Jones, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Blake, and Shelley (I skipped ahead to him): a focus on what I call “exotic materials.”

The Romantics had a deep love for the natural world that they conveyed beautifully. They celebrated the “stuff,”  the materials, of nature itself such as the sun, moon, and stars; wood, stone, leaves, flowers, grass, fire; water, ice, and snow. (See Barbauld’s “Summer Evening’s Meditation” or Charlotte Smith’s September 1791 poem about the moon – they’re breathtaking).

However, when the Romantics discussed the “stuff” or materials of the human world, I see a contrast between the exotic materials of dreams and the homelier stuff of everyday. For example, Blake discusses soot and bricks in poems such as “The Chimney Sweeper” and “London,” but he dreams of gold, silver, precious stones, and melting metals in his formidable vision The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Shelley discusses a whole list of exotic materials in his enthralling poem Alastor: diamond, gold, crystal, chrysolite, pearl, gems, and alabaster (somewhere around lines 90-114).

Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge and the other anthologized writers also contrast the exotic materials of dreams and visions with the uglier, commonplace materials of Regency England (especially London). Note: British Orientalism hovers in the background of this fascination with the “exotic.”

As a writer, I realized that I, too, have a tendency to fill my dreams with exotic materials – expensive, intoxicating “stuff” that become the set and props for my daydream adventures. I made a list of the kind of materials that fascinate and compel me, that carry with them associations of magic and intrigue, adventure and romance:

  • gold
  • silver
  • silk
  • satin
  • velvet
  • mahogany
  • marble
  • bronze
  • iron
  • steel
  • copper
  • mahogany
  • cedar
  • crystal
  • glass
  • gems
Gold and crystal chandelier in front of a mirror and some red velvet curtains.

Like Anne of Green Gables, who loved the idea of an “alabaster brow” before knowing what it was, I love thinking about these materials and using them in metaphor and simile. However, I believe that writers have an obligation to reveal the beauty of our own place and time. I started to make a list of the materials I encounter every day:

  • concrete
  • plastic
  • styrofoam
  • cardboard
  • paper
  • wood
  • metal
  • rubber
  • cement
  • ceramic 
  • paper
  • cardstock
  • aluminum
  • tin
  • sawdust
Car junk heap.

Unfortunately, this list felt increasingly negative as I kept listing. Where is the poetry in plastic? The magic in concrete? The fascination in cardboard?

Back to the Romantics: in an age hovering on the brink of the Industrial Revolution, they too saw and touched ugly things every day. Even nature has its ugly moments: mud, sleet, slush, decaying bark, ashes, mold, and more. This is a fallen world; a truth-loving perspective acknowledges loveliness and hideousness, and joy celebrates and encourages the former.

With that in mind, I made a goal of listing “good” materials I encounter every day, or seeing “ugly” materials in a positive light:

  • The shining smoothness of glazed pottery
  • The dreamy reflections in a car’s gleaming exterior
  • The cheerful cleanliness of fresh paint
  • Frost glittering in the cracks of pavement
  • The crinkly delight of tissue paper

What materials construct your world? How can you describe them in order to create a vivid, tactile experience for the reader?

Gray Days: Finding Joy at Winter’s End

A sheet of broken ice on the ocean. The sky is dark gray until the horizon, which is gold with sunset.

The most difficult time of year for me (emotionally) is revolving back to us again: late February and all of March, winter’s deathbed. The bitter cold or gloomy damp, the gray skies, dirty snow, and slush, the wet bark of leafless trees, and the fierce winds weigh tend to drag my mood down to the depths.

Why is this season harder for me even than the darkest time of year, December 31st? Holidays and “human” seasons (as opposed to the earth’s seasons) have a lot to do with it: November and December are made cozy and warm, exciting and communal by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. The difference is aesthetic, too: though it’s dark and cold, the fresh bright snow glitters in the sunlight and glows in the moonlight; jewel-toned lights glimmer on porches and trees; fireplaces within and cold without make indoors cozy and inviting. Somehow, actual blackness is easier to romanticize and enjoy than the ambivalent, soulless gray we often face at this time of year.

Certain memories of this time of year also depress me; in the not-so-long-ago school years, March especially was the month farthest away from the relief of vacations, when my motivation to study was running dry. In fourth grade, I read Astrid Lingren’s Pippi in the South Seas and almost cried as I dreamed of escaping my cold, boring, lonely winter days to a tropical paradise of friendship and adventure.

One of my joys as a writer and thinker is the transcendence of dreams. Even as the outside world is drab and colorless, the inside world, literal and figurative, is always under our control. I always turn on the inside lights on overcast days and sometimes light a scented candle, or bring our gas fireplace to roaring cheer. As to the inside world of my mind, I can transform that in two ways: imagination and recognition.

Imagination

I love the flight cliches for the imagination: our imagination jumps, soars, and has wings because it’s transcendent. We tap into the unknown and unseen and create new worlds that not only heal, comfort, and entertain, but when realized with the right amount of action, can manifest themselves in reality.

I can imagine away this winter-sickness by transforming it. For example:

  • Damp: The humidity that hangs heavy in the mornings isn’t the mold-nurturing misery it seems; it’s silver mist heavy with secrets, the fog of mystery and imagination, in which the phantoms of fear and longing take shape.
  • Ugliness: I can survive this time by recreating the loveliness of the other seasons, especially summer. My mind is an infinite landscape of green spaces: zephrys whispering through weeping willow branches, gardens lush with the curling petals of peony blossoms, sunrises like burning roses over rippling lakes. 
  • Boredom: The dull, unchanging days are the persevering striving in the middle of a quest, like Frodo and Sam’s wanderings in the Dead Marshes in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, when the heroes are tempted to abandon their quest. 

“The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n,” said John Milton in Paradise Lost. If our minds can become prisons, they can also become paradises.

Recognition

And yet . . .  “When the Lord puts us in certain circumstances He doesn’t mean for us to imagine them away,” says Marilla wisely in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Imagination is a wonderful escape, but those who accuse dreamers of being of no concrete help make a valid point. I can dream away the ugliness of this late winter season – or I can recognize the beauty underneath it, inside of it, to which my demand for clear skies and natural life blinds me.

  • Humidity: The gray, overcast skies and moist air are nurturing the earth and preparing it for the glories of spring and summer. Secret beauties are growing under the bark of trees and under the sparse grass and mud as the world softens and awakens from winter’s rest.
  • Boredom: Instead of bracing myself for dull months as if I’m helpless, I can use this time to treat myself with some old favorites. With some exceptions, the Bronte sisters seemed to write about landscapes that remind me of March – stormy skies and wild moors. I can read Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Wuthering Heights, and Shirley in front of a cozy fire with a more empathetic enjoyment than I could on a hot summer day.
  • Ugliness: There are many gray days in this time of year, but the silver-pearl skies reflect serenity as well as gloom. Often a false thaw in February gives way to new, shining snow before winter’s end. The days of sun also have a strange, mystical radiance. In the woods that border the highways, afternoon’s gold illuminates the ash and russet in the bark of leafless trees and the gracefulness of the tangled bittersweet vines.

Even as winter sickens and dies, hope and beauty are eternal; imagination and recognition just open the window.

How can you use imagination and recognition to face this time of year?