The sound of quiet drifting over the mountains was audible as I sat alone by the fire, immersed in solitude while my young children slept upstairs. I let my book fall and gazed out over the moonlit snow. It was delightfully beautiful and already deep enough for sledding and building snowmen. Christmas was a week away and we were expecting eight guests for a few days. When you live in the country, city folk see your house as a wonderful weekend getaway. The company was welcome. We lived an isolated life and I was looking forward to the holiday surrounded by the warmth of old friends.
Arrivals began more or less on time with lots of hugs and laughter. Several unexpected guests appeared as well. Some we didn’t know—people who otherwise would have spent the holiday alone—came with expected guests. Some drove up for a couple of days just to see how we were doing. We always had an open-door policy. Reservations were not necessary and all guests were welcome as long as they brought a sleeping bag.
By Christmas Eve our family of four had grown to twenty-two. The guests had all come bearing gifts of scrumptious delectables, from hams to excellent scotch. We were well stocked and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. St. Nick himself would be hard-put to add to the general merriment. Although I swear I saw an elf or two hitting the hot rum.
About midday the wind picked up and howled through the trees announcing the coming of a winter storm. The temperature dropped noticeably within an hour or two. We didn’t have a television to inform us of the weather changes. We had lived without electricity until the fall and decided that life was better without the tube. Nature has her way of letting you know the weather coming your way if you only listen and watch the signs.
This was going to be a magnificent winter storm. The sky was filled with those wonderful snow clouds that look like hundreds of pluffy baby bottoms hanging seemingly within touching range. Low and close. The wind was gusting and cold. The birds were nowhere to be seen and our own chickens were returning to the henhouse and pluffing up themselves. We took advantage of all the extra hands to stack in more dry firewood and stock the henhouse with extra hay. Our hens were pampered with warm water and hot peppers strewn on the henhouse floor. Both kept them laying eggs throughout the winter. A necessity since the nearest store was forty miles away.
The snow started about two in the afternoon. Huge flakes falling so hard that visibility was limited to about fifty feet. We were having a grand time with snowball fights and sledding. With eleven assorted artists among us, the building of snowmen became a rather eclectic affair. The results looked like Picasso had been unleashed on our field.
As the sun set the cold drove us inward to hot soup and a warm fire. The children were entranced by one Christmas story after another and finally surrendered to sleep in the arms of love and affection.
By this time the wind was so cold and fierce that we’d hung blankets over the windows and sealed the doors. We depended on wood to heat the house, so keeping the fire stoked overnight was crucial. Several souls were engaged in a serious poker game that looked like it was going to last all night. They were our designated fire tenders. The temperature was likely to drop below zero during the night so we tried to impress upon the poker players the seriousness of their duty. We retired to cocoons of comforters secure in the belief that the card players would get cold (not being in their cocoons) and remember to stoke the fire—providing they weren’t stoking their own fires with the scotch.
I slept (as everyone did) in long johns and socks but awoke pre-dawn because it was cold. In fact I woke up because my closed eyes were cold. Damn, I hate cold eyes. The icy chill indicated the fire had gone out. So much for the cold-poker-player theory. I built a roaring fire and retreated to my cocoon for warmth and a few more winks.
We awoke to a warm house and one of the most stunning sights this earth has to offer—an ice storm and bright blue skies. If you’ve never seen such a sight (certainly not in Central Texas) it’s almost unimaginable. When the sun hits the ice-covered landscape the effect is like thousands of prisms working their magic. The blue of the sky refracts into thousands of hues in every layer of ice. The sun produces rainbows of color shooting through the ice-clad trees. Everything was covered with a quarter-inch of ice. It was a truly stunning sight. Icicles as long a two feet hung from eaves and trees alike. All twenty-two of us walked carefully out onto the crest of a nearby small field to behold the beauty of it all.
We were hushed absorbing the sight and discovered the sound of ice on trees. As the wind blew slightly, the crackling of ice on moving limbs created a symphony to accompany the visual delight. We stood silently, huddling against the cold and slippery ground. Twenty-two souls collectively shared this bond with Mother Nature’s Christmas gift to us all. Time stood still. I don’t know how long we were there basking in the glory of all that surrounded us. I just remember the moment and being aware that all was right with the world.
While we aren’t likely to experience an ice storm in Austin, this holiday I wish for you such a moment, surrounded by loved ones, in which the world is right. Merry Christmas.