Sunday, January 2, 2011
The ground of my front flower bed is soft, fertile, well-worked. For most of the year it supports a soul-satisfying and always shifting array of color, texture and fragrance. From crocuses to hyacinths to yarrow to lavender to bee balm. The alchemy of combining rich soil, warm sunlight and rain results in a treasure chest that rivals any collection of jewels anywhere.
For the short time the soil lays fallow in our climate it remains soft and receptive, waiting for warmth to return. But once in a while Arctic air moves down from the north bringing such intense cold that the moisture that once offered gentle liquid sustenance transforms into a harsh frozen solid.
Crystalline trees form and grow upward, strong enough to hold rocks and a complete layer of soil. What was once a smooth and serene surface becomes a terrible forest straight from a fairy tale enchantment. It takes over the landscape with the promise that even when the magic kiss of the sun breaks its power, its effects will remain. Nothing will be left in quite the same place. The soil will be even more porous than before, more tillable. The newly unearthed stones will be removed in the spring planting, leaving the ground cleaner and even more receptive.
The ice forest reflects light on the grayest of days, but offers no warmth. Its harsh beauty, capable of drawing blood, refuses to hide anything, exposing everything.
There is no way to prevent an Arctic blast or the resulting frost heave, beyond the creation of protective layers so thick they keep the cold out at the expense of allowing any life in at all. And so I stand in this frozen forest, kept warm enough in the quilt of the many prayers and kind words and shared stories offered in these last days to surrender to its cold cleansing fire knowing it will leave the soil of my heart even more fertile than it was before.