It’s winter in the mountains. The leaves are all down, hastily gathered and swept away by city workers, and the trees are unreadable calligraphy inscribed on a white sky. Icicles are forming along the edge of the verandah roof, and it feels as if life has, in some way, gone back to its default setting. “Mon pays, c’est l’hiver” (Winter is my homeland), wrote Quebecois singer Gilles Vigneault. Summer is a sweet interlude, a parenthetical golden moment, a golden butterfly who only stays long enough to give birth to winter.
I am full of memory now, as the earth leans away from the sun, settling back into its long northern nap. I remember myself, full of fire, fire rising to meet the rising dark. Working all day, skiing after work, and then driving for an hour to the hotsprings where I would lounge at the mouth of the cave out of whose heart the hot water comes, watching the mountains blaze white in the frozen moonlight. I remember swimming through chest-deep snow, my son on my back, in the forest behind our house, looking for a suitable Christmas tree. I can remember fire blazing on a solstice night, colder than cold, myself unable to enter the house, held between the fire and the icy stars. I remember skating at night on a frozen canal, thinking that if I lay down in the snow by the canal I’d freeze quickly, eyes turning to opals in the darkness, blood crystallizing into a branching red ruby.
A couple of nights ago I called my Aunt Hope. At eighty-six, she’s the only person in the world who still thinks of me as a boy. She lives in eastern Ontario, beside the Saint Lawrence River, in the country of winter’s hegemony. I told her how I loved winter and she said, in her old voice, “Yes, dear. It makes you feel alive.”
It’s all about fire. The absoluteness of the cold demands fire to meet it. I have less of it now. I feel tired after making a tray of cinnamon buns, and my winter night excursions are about bundling up on my porch swing to feel the cold wind coming down the lake.
But I remember that me who burned in the winter with life and fire, more than enough for me and others, enough to warm children on a freezing toboggan run, snow-shoe through dead-silent pine forests, walk out onto the ice of eastern Lake Ontario in the dark, lost in blowing snow, trusting the fire in me to bring me out of it alive.
Fire remembered. The Knight of Wands grown old.