By Bruce Stambaugh
I was driving along a country road recently on an unusually beautiful day, especially for Ohio in December. The sun was shining. It was near 50 degrees and yet officially winter.
When I rounded an easy curve heading east through a stand of trees, I saw them. The long shadows of winter had arrived. With the sun at its most southerly declination, the naked trees cast long, dark shadows across the roadway and into the stark, fallow fields that I could see ahead through the glen.
Perhaps it was passing from the young woodlot into the open fields on either side of the road that caught my attention to this most common occurrence. Sun and shadows equal cause and effect.
The stand of trees was too big to be saplings and too small to be considered a forest. Proof of that came in their failure to deflect the brilliant afternoon sunshine. Instead, dark, irregular fingers splayed across the roadway, jumped the barbed wire fence and settled upon the elephant grass that had ransacked the helpless fields.
It was as if I were driving over a corduroy road without the ridges. With the certain winter wind frolicking, the shadows used the tan clumps to wave to me as I passed by. I took notice, but didn’t return the gesture.
That moment in time got me to thinking, which isn’t always a good thing. I slowed down as I approached the next curve, also guarded by trees, lots larger this time. They cast much more impressive silhouettes, in part due to their size, but also because of their geographic disposition.
These virile hardwoods hung tight to the northern slope of a humpbacked hillside on the south side of the road. They impeded the blessed sun much more efficiently than the previous tunnel of trees. In all my years of driving, I have never enjoyed passing through alternating stripes of sun and shadows, especially when they cross your path for a quarter mile or more. I tend to slow down just to be safe.
At least no snow covered the ground. If it had, the contrast between dark and light would have been even greater, making it all the more difficult to navigate. Unless, of course, it would have been a starlit night casting softer, more poetic moon shadows.
I came out of my dreamy trance as the road straightened and the fields became productive once again. Corn stubble graced the left and pastures the right. The only trees visible served as fencerows, too far from the highway to trip me up.
I pondered what potentially lay ahead for the New Year’s winter. Would we have a substantial, sustained snow cover or would the winter of the old year be repeated? Or would we simply have a little of each?
The answer of course was simple. There was no way to tell. We would have to take one day at a time, and accept the weather as it arrived. We like to control as much as we can in our 21st century lives, especially with all of our highfalutin technology. The weather, fortunately, eludes that realm.
The long shadows of winter are upon us. Whether on dry ground or crusty snow, one thing is certain. As the days slowly grow longer, their span will shorten, even if it is at the minuscule pace of minutes a day.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2013
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