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Susie Weber

A Tribute to Winter

Gazing out at the wooly skies of winter, I focus on the frosted and skeletal trees of the season. Frozen in their yogic formations, the branches delicately extend like the fragile fingers of a dancer—a silhouette of limbs. The trees stand tall outside my window as I lie warped on our wine-colored couch, lost in the emptiness of my mind. I am carrying a lifeless fetus whose imminent separation agonizes me. I cannot read, I cannot work, I cannot cook, I cannot even walk; I cannot do anything that allows me to feel alive. Maybe my own lifelessness serves as a kind of empathy for the little soul that has so silently departed from my womb. Maybe I am just as stuck as these frozen dancers outside my window. And maybe my pain will pass only when the season does.

In all my Walden-like winter adventures, I have never noticed deciduous trees like I do today. Evergreens wave their furry arms year round. When I ski the backcountry, it is under those plump branches where I find a dry, protected space. But today, I give rapt attention to all the leafless trees I can see from our sunroom: my eyes land on a Locust with a large knot right in the middle of its broad, scaly trunk. At first glance, it is not pretty, not gentle, but raw and rough. The branches bend and bow in formations that aren’t quite delicate or angelic. The tree is almost frightening the way it hovers over our porch, claws hanging in a lifeless space. Yet I am struck by all the angles of the limbs, the grayness of the bark against the white sky, and the sturdiness of something so frail and seemingly feeble. The ugly tree protects me from all the beauty that I am not privy to at this moment; it lends strength for survival that I want to borrow. No longer just stark and sallow, these figures now speak to me of a harsh and worn beauty that is the courage of winter. Staring out at the leafless sky from my inconsolable world of grief, I become a virgin to their splendor.

A week passes and my husband and I decide to plant a tree to memorialize our loss. Despite the early snowfall, the earth and air are still warm enough to support a new life. After spending an afternoon at the tree farm, we finalize on my favorite tree—a Quaking Aspen. For no reason, we decide we cannot buy just one, and so we choose two scrawny Aspens and lug them into our neighbor’s red truck. My husband digs two holes in the front yard under the late afternoon sunshine while I type a short poem to bury next to the roots. We light a small candle and let it burn out on its own.

November passes and December moves in with more snow and cold than is usual in our semi-arid Colorado climate. The days come and go like falling leaves, and I begin to let go of my pain. My dawn-time commute offers me a more sanguine response to things: maybe this was indeed meant to be. Maybe the ugliness of it all will fade with the winter winds, and I can start anew. I am lucky enough to pass through only two stoplights in the twenty-minute drive to a neighboring town where I teach high school English—a job that allows me to forget myself as I live amidst the chaos of 130 teenagers entering and exiting my life each day. I leave my house, turn left on Broadway, and immediately a massive view of the mountains spreads across my windshield. The Flatirons, rock faces that look like their namesake, are salted in snow and glowing red in the light of the dawn. The ridgeline runs prominently across the fire blue sky—a reverse silhouette of sorts. At the mountains’ base are open spaces and snow dusted fields peppered with cows grazing. I am quieted.

The semester ends and for the holidays my husband and I—still carrying my scarred soul—drive eight hours north to visit my family in Wyoming. It is a place that offers us just as much solace through the outdoors as our own home, maybe even more. Only there, we know we will experience true winter: freezing cold temperatures and boundless snow. Leaving Colorado, I stare at all the different deciduous trees—Ash, Cottonwood, Willow, Russian Olive, Cherry, Catalpa—and I notice how each has a distinctive crown. I find myself wishing I could paint these stunning formations to show the world we have overlooked the most beautiful part of winter, for trees in this season are so often described by what they lack—leaves, buds, greenery, life. But I stare straight past the conifers, snow-covered limbs sagging with their white weight, and can’t get enough of my new beauty, these new faces of winter.

We get up early one morning to go backcountry skiing, to venture into the quiet woods where we always seem to uncover a bit of ourselves. All that is bleak and austere is somehow soothing, perhaps because it mirrors my own colorless mood. The day is not sunny, the sky is not blue, the air is not warm. It is a harsh and unforgiving December morning at 8,400 feet on Teton Pass. I move silently and steadily up a steep track that winds in and out of the woods. The only sounds I can hear are the moans of the snow as I dig my pole in through the history of storms, layer upon layer. Each pole creaks like a mast on a ship, and my Gore-tex jacket consistently disrupts the silence as it crinkles with my reaching arm like a sail luffing in the wind. The air is cold on my ears, my cheeks, and my neck. The wind whips through the tunnels of my head—up my nose, down my throat, into the corners of my eyes—any exposed orifice it can find. But I sweat as we climb in the cold to the top of a peak whose name I can’t remember. We don’t talk much…just find our own rhythms and empty our minds.

The trees parallel the trail like pencil counts on paper, their lead colored trunks leaning against a white world. The fibrous bark is pock marked with dark spots, oddly striking now that they are exposed. Rubbery, dark, and rough, the trunks are strangely beautiful—like the face of someone who has really lived and isn’t afraid to show it. I think of a boy I once met with a scar that ran along his throat from a fight against cancer. I think of a young man I dated who had scars on his forehead and chin, from what I never knew. I think of myself and my own marred skin and wonder if I could ever just wear mine like this tree wears his, storing its mark of a life worn through to the marrow. I stop to drink some water and my eyes settle on the ice-covered limbs ahead. The crown of the Western Soapberry weeps, branches bending and balancing in the thin air.

Today it has been a year since my miscarriage; it’s winter again. The first snow falls steadily outside my window. I am getting dressed for my ritual—a run—on the opening day of my favorite season. I pass by my bed and glance at a pair of tiny green socks and smile. Laughter echoes down the hall. My mother plays with one of the twins and my husband amuses the other. Our identical girls, born two months ago, are named Emma West and Molly Winter. They are strong and beautiful like two Aspens on a December day.

I nurse the girls just before I leave, gazing out my bedroom window at the Apple tree and the mountains in the background that have become my staple view; eight times a day I sit on my bed, babies in position, and stare serenely at that bony tree, a myriad of stick figures stretching out and up, reaching for sunlight, waiting for spring. The girls finish drinking, and so I summon my beleaguered body and head toward the trails behind our house, trails I haven’t been on for a good four months now. My muscles—bent out of shape from pregnancy—ache after only fifteen minutes. But I don’t care. For the moment, everything is perfect. I just slow my pace to a walk and smile to the wind. The air sighs a great breath, and I feel the chilliness settle on my neck. I zip my jacket to the last tooth on the zipper and raise my head to the cold, the gray skies, and the naked trees ahead, branches fanning out like flakes of falling snow. I am full.

©2008 by Susie Weber

Susie Weber has been filling journals since she learned to write, but has just recently begun to try and publish her work. She has been teaching high school English in Colorado for the past seven years, and also has taught abroad in Ecuador and at a boarding school in Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Colby College, and her Master's, also in English, from the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband, who is also a high school teacher, and their twin girls.

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