Views in winter

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It’s been a winter of big storms, big snow, big drifts. The snowbanks on either side of our country road slope steeply upward six feet or more, reminding me of the snowbanks my siblings and I used to climb on winter mornings while we waited for the yellow school bus to arrive. Each of us would search for the very highest point to scramble upon, and then proclaim our status as queen (or more likely, king, my brothers being more agile than I) of the castle.

As I look out across the fields today, snow lies thickly on the ground, the crust of its surface shining like golden meringue in the late afternoon sun. The winter landscape consists of elementals: white fields, blue sky, grey rock, brown trees. Its austerity sombers the mind; the relentless cold can lead to feeling defeated and trapped.

One of the 14 bird nests along a stretch of our road.

But I am here to tell you that wonders do indeed reveal themselves in this chill, forbidding season. Out walking along the road, surveying the latticework of bare tree branches, I discovered 14 bird nests in the short one kilometre between our house and the gravel pit. Winter has exposed their locations, previously hidden from view by the lush green foliage of summer. How lucky for me! Now I can map the nest sites, so that come spring, I might be able to spot the returning owners.

Last week, I discovered that the lower right hand corner of the window facing onto our back hill has become a canvas for exquisite frost etchings. These art installations stay for a day or two, then disappear.

More than any other season, winter teaches me to toggle between outlooks: the long view over snow-covered fields, the close-up of frost flowers. The long view casting back over my life, the close-up of savoury stew simmering on the stove.

I like this short poem by Anne Porter for its shifting perspectives.

Winter Twilight

On a clear winter’s evening
The crescent moon

And the round squirrels’ nest
In the bare oak

Are equal planets.

~ Anne Porter



  1. Wendy Sarno

    February 28, 2019

    Mary Lou, your wintry images and reflections brought me right up there into your landscape with you. The snow drifts, the fields of golden meringue at sunset, the bare trees, the bird’s nests, the curlycues of frost on the window. “Winter teaches me to toggle between outlooks…”What a wonderful observation and invitation now as we move into March and the anticipation of an eventual Spring. Today I look out at an ice clad world after a night of freezing rain, spitting sleet all morning, the song birds at the feeders, a family of starlings on a stolen wedge of suet. On my table, a vase of daffodils a friend brought yesterday. A bright yellow promise of seasons to come. Blooming flowers and an ice-covered walk, equal planets. Thank you.

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      March 1, 2019

      Dear Wendy — “spitting sleet”, “stolen wedge of suet” — more images to enliven the heart during the winter. Thank you, dear Wrensong!

  2. Lucy

    March 2, 2019

    Dearest Mary Lou,

    today I have had the great fortune to stumble upon your website! I was lead here by a search for “The Art of Fugue”. How fortunate! It is such a joy to read your posts, to fall into your photos, my heart is skipping.
    Thank you, Poetry Soul Walker,

    Lucy x

    • Mary Lou van Schaik

      March 4, 2019

      Dear Lucy – What a pleasure to meet you here! Thank you for browsing the posts and your heart-warming comments. Much love to you — Mary Lou

  3. janice

    March 7, 2019

    Dear Mary Lou, Your eloquent observations on the wonders that are to be found in the relentless days of winter lighten and warm my heart. ‘Toggling between outlooks’, ‘shifting perspectives’, ‘equal planets’ – I do believe this will carry me through these last seemingly endless days of this season’s cold. Thank you for this necessary and poetic reminder. love, Jan

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