With a decisive “click,” the glass of the storm windows locks into place, and the quiet season begins. The sounds of the outside world recede, muffled for the rest of the fall and winter, and I experience my usual mix of feelings at the start of this hushed time: peace and comfort in the relative silence of a warm home, a sense of loss with the passing of summer and fall, anticipation and resignation about the cold, gray winter ahead.
After growing up in Los Angeles, with its stunted sense of seasons, I appreciate the yearly cycle in the Great Lakes region, even though it can be hard. Winter is long and demanding. We sometimes have a week-long thaw in February, and eager faces turn toward the southern sky like sunflowers. Then the thaw ends. Winter returns. We scurry back indoors. When spring finally comes in earnest, I marvel at the bravery of snowdrops and crocuses and await the early-season tulips.
But long before the first buds of spring start to swell, winter turns us inward. Even by Halloween, a few cold, damp, blustery days have sent snowflakes or ice pellets sideways. Wind and hard rains hammer the colored leaves out of the trees, scattering them across lawns and walks and streets. We see neighbors less often; their children don’t play outside as much, and the street is no longer filled with their piping, excited voices. There are fewer spontaneous meetings on front lawns and porches. House lights glow through closed windows.
When winter weather comes to stay, all becomes quiet. Snow covers trees and bushes and earth. Walking outside, my boots crunch in it. The sound travels only a short distance before the snow sucks it into silence.
Indoors, sealed against the weather, we watch the darkness come early. The fire crackles. Cars whisper past. The sound of the traffic on the big cross-street a couple of blocks away, heard easily through summer windows, cannot penetrate the storm glass. It is as if the traffic has been diverted, though the cross-street remains one of the busiest thoroughfares in town.
Our lives settle into an indoor rhythm. The dog, burly and bear-like in his winter coat, spends more time curled up and snoozing. The two cats spoon like quotation marks. Flannel sheets go on the bed. Even they are quieter, rustling less than the smooth, cool, snappy sheets of summer. Soup burbles on the stove. The furnace hums to life, roars out its hot breath for a while, then sleeps again.
When I take the dog for his bedtime stroll, he sticks his nose deep in the snow, and I look up at the stars, waiting for him to be satisfied. A neighbor comes out of his house to rummage in his car. After he finds whatever he’s looking for, he straightens and notices me. We have known each other for a decade. In warmer months, we chat about yards and bikes and his retirement travels. Now, he only nods and hurries inside. His front door clicks shut, and I return to the stars. Orion hunts in the cold winter sky.