For Christmas Emme gave me hand-dyed prayer flags. She bought them white and dyed them blue, and they came out the color of snow at late twilight. The tree has been empty of flags for a month or so now, empty of everything but snow and wind and, occasionally, me. The day after Christmas I manage to anchor myself in place against the wind, tuck my gloves in my pocket, and lean out precariously to tie the new strand of flags in place. This sort of thing is much easier in summer. I lean back against the tree and take them in, fluttering among the branches. They are perfect. They are the color of winter.
I am out early on this Arctic Sunday morning, the rest of the house still sleeping, to fill the bird feeder on the back porch. Soon it will throng with goldfinches, chickadees, juncos. They’ll need every seed they can get; it is at least -18. I figure I may as well climb the tree while I’m at it, so I head around to the front of the house. The skies are clear and the snow crunches loudly underfoot in the silence of the morning. As I follow my path through the snow to the tree I see crisp, delicate deer tracks in my boot prints from last night.
It was late when I climbed, and only -8 or so, but with the kind of wind you duck your head against. When I was close to the top the wind grew more violent, blowing through the tree like a freight train. It must have been at least 30 mph, maybe 40 when it gusted, lashing the branches—and me—effortlessly about. I struggled through it the last ten feet or so to my perch, trying to breathe and wishing I had worn something over my face. I climbed down as quickly as I could and ran back through the darkness and the blowing snow to the house, gloves over my face, sliding as I went. This was the coldest I remember it ever feeling in the tree, through three winters; the wind chill must have been at least -40 or -45.
Now I follow the deer tracks through those elongated boot prints. It must have walked at dawn from the big apple tree through the snow to the driveway, down the driveway to my path, along the path toward the woods. Just before the tree the tracks cut off to the right into the underbrush.
The sun is just rising through the trees as I make my way upwards, the light sliding down the opposite hills. The air is perfectly still, and -18 is comfortable compared to last night. After a few moments at the top, watching my breath drift past the twilight flags—I am grateful they are still there after last night’s wind—I make my way down, and follow the deer tracks, now mostly obliterated by my own, back to the house.