What I’ll remember most about this month’s winter storm was the first sight of our trees defeated by cold, their limbs bent like dromedaries as they struggled under the ice.
“Enough,” they seemed to say, suggesting the too-muchness of the times.
Those of us who looked to January as a turning of the page after a troubled year now know again that the strangeness of 2020 continues its march into a new calendar.
Like many in south Louisiana, our household went without electricity for a few days during the recent big freeze, an adventure made familiar by our long experience with hurricanes. Even so, there’s no getting used to the sudden darkness of a house after the power goes. You see a little bit at a time, in the small circles of light from a candle or camping lantern. That, too, reminded me of the fragmentary feel of the headlines — how we’re picking our way along these days like coal miners, the larger pattern of things obscured by one emergency or another: virus, impeachment, cold so fierce that Mardi Gras was more like the Iditarod.
Under blankets within a house as frigid as a cave, I spent a good deal of time looking out the window, where the view promised something more vivid than the dancing shadows thrown by my wife’s oil lamp.
What I saw, mostly, were birds. The cold had made them hungry, so they loitered around my feeders, elbowing each other for a space at the trough. A lone cardinal threaded through the sycamore under ashen clouds, bright as a signal flare in a gray sea. A red-bellied woodpecker, with his crimson cap and striped wings, offered the closest thing to a Carnival costume on an otherwise drab Fat Tuesday. Goldfinches crowded the frosty lawn like park pigeons, eager for the sunflower seed I’d scattered on the ground.
My wife quietly nudged me to restock the feeders, anxious that the birds would have their fill. Fluffed like Christmas ornaments, they were obviously burning lots of calories to stay alive. The mother in her wanted to give them a fighting chance.
They were good company, suggesting the strength of numbers.
That sense of solidarity chimed with a book that kept me company through the freeze, Martha Teichner’s “When Harry Met Minnie.” It chronicles Teichner’s decision to adopt the dog of a dying friend, but it’s really about the consolation of neighbors — even in the middle of New York City, and even in an era when too many of us don’t know the folks next door.
The nice thing about bad weather in south Louisiana is that it rallies neighbors in a common cause. When the ice snapped several pine branches that blocked two driveways, we joined with two other households to clear the mess.
That casual kindness, so easily taken for granted, might be what sustains us, no matter what the news brings.