Now is the Summer of Our Discontent


Williamston, MI

Yesterday on NPR the smug keepers of educated public opinion asked a closed—but putatively open—question: who’s tired of winter? It was one of those patented cute transitions between news stories that the darlings of radio are so adept at, the music well-cued and the listeners brought back to fuzzy happiness after appalling stories about bullying and the economy and how poorly we’re doing at STEM, a little group laugh in the bleak midwinter.

Everyone, it seems, is tired of winter. Bostonians, Albuquerquians, everyone within NPR’s all-embracing reach–everyone from sea to rising sea.

Here in Michigan it’s been a winter such as we had when I was a child, if the lense of memory be not smudged too much by the fingerprints of longing: impressive drifts alongside the north-south country roads, snow showers not quite daily but much more frequently than we’ve seen in many winters, long stretches—weeks and weeks—without any thaws. From inside this snug farmhouse I look out across the fields at vast white reaches, acre upon acre of unsullied snow, righteousness imputed to the amber waves of grain and the green oceans of corn scheduled for feed stock, ethanol plants, and two-liter bottles of Dr. Pepper.

And from my mis en place here in the kitchen, where I sprinkle cuts of chicken with paprika, salt, and pepper ere I roll them in flour—here, where I pause to take a hit of bourbon and wait for that warm arm of fire to reach down my throat—I look out at a mountain of snow where my boys dig tunnels and throw snowballs and shove each other down the slopes, the dogs snapping at them in playful exuberant doggishess. Could it be that NPR has forgotten about the children and the dogs and a banged-up man looking out a kitchen window? All things considered indeed!

Soon the boys will come in, rosy and smiling, the superlatives flying, and I’ll see in them what the poet called my former self.

And later there will be joy in a book and comfort by a snapping fire in a glowing room. What pleasure there is in pulling down from the shelf not something but anything. And lo! Here is that splendid opening speech from Richard III that set unshakably in place an ungrateful attitude toward winter—spoken, remember, by a treacherous and villainous hunchback, a monster “cheated of feature by dissembling nature,” a proto-U.S. cabinet member utterly bored by peace. (“In this weak piping time of peace,” Richard, now Earl of Gloucester, finds that he has “no delight to pass away the time, / Unless to spy [his] own shadow in the sun / And descant on [his] own deformity.”)

Well, Richard III might not have been shaped for sportive tricks or made to court an amorous looking-glass, but by my sword I was. I don’t lack love’s majesty. Where is my Chief Eye-Roller and Counter of Cocktails? What are the chances that my wanton ambling nymph will bring me a snifter of cognac and sit splendidly on my lap here by the fire in this winter of my great content? Even on this wounded drumstick of mine I’d trounce through the moon-jeweled snow to bring another piece of cherry to the hearth. I’d brave the north wind for the goddess excellently bright and the snow-loving children she bore me.

It’s the winter I’d hoped it would be when I set out upon the Dumb-Ass Acres Adventure, now the Dumb-Ass Acres Fiasco. I’d hoped for cold air and deep snow and all the harsh conditions that make a trek to the woods and a brush fire so ravishing, reminding a man that getting warm is worth the being cold. What I got instead were broken bones and a room with a view and the inconvenience of walking short interior distances on sticks.

“But not for this faint I,” as, again, the poet said. “For such loss, I would believe, / Abundant recompence”—for example, the room and the view, the memory of my former days gone by, the “spruces rough in the distant glitter / Of the January sun,” and that fair creature of an hour, she not rudely stamp’d, whose glittering so taketh me.

For I have learned to look on winter not as in the hour of thoughtless radio commentary

but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.

Those who live closer to the weather than NPR radio hosts might be tired of winter, and they might have their reasons, but don’t number me among them.

At a time when snow is accounted nothing more than an impediment to driving, I’ll watch it fall outside my window as I sit by the fire and sip an after-dinner drink. I’ll prop my peg-leg up on a footstool, recite Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Keats and Stevens and Herrick. Maybe just for the fun of it I’ll descant a little on my own deformity, but mostly I’ll thank the wonks to keep their errors to themselves. For

now is the summer of my discontent
Made glorious winter by this sum of snow;
And all the heat that lour’d upon my house
In the deep bosom of the snow drift buried.

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