Up at home there's about 20 inches of snow, melting gradually, the streets mostly clear, a path for Abby out in the yard. The thermometer says 20 degrees.
I tend to be more aware of my surroundings when it's cold. Partly because my vision may be partly obscured by hat or scarf of my face will be bent away from the wind. It's still important to be aware, that mugger or snowplow both exist to ruin your day.
I've also noticed the homeless. In Indianapolis there's a stretch of road going West where there seems to be a veritable trail of such folks, pushing or carrying their belongings, some with their signs, to set up shop on the same street corner. What is it that draws them to that road, the nearness of the railways, some abandoned buildings and barns in this area of town that rapidly declining financially?
This isn't weather that's kind to such people. On one corner there was regularly a rail-thin woman with face pocked with the signs of meth use with had blond city hair and cold eyes, looking out at the street with a sullen inscrutability, and a coiled sense of movement, a hiss that is a warning. I would see her often, I did not stop, sensing threat even as her sign begged for money. Sometimes the safest thing is to step back when you hear that rattle from the underbrush. She was gone with the cold, hopefully to just someplace warmer and not a cold dark vault of regret.
It's not weather you want to be caught out alone in, I think as I come home from volunteering at the food bank, grateful to have a warm house, and enough to eat.
Still, even though it's not as brutally cold as it was last year, I still prepare for the storms with food, a source of heat, warm clothing and plenty of light.
For you never know when things will turn bad. Even though now the sky is pure and the temperature is warm, the fact that the winter weather seems to have stopped is simply another sleight of hand from the greatest of magicians, Mother Nature. Machiavellians stroke on the part of that foe, a new battle towards which it channels ancient wounds, inflicting its grievance upon the land. It will likely arrive to do battle when you least expect it, when the prolonged blow of the dark and ice sinks through the skull and lays its claim deep on the bones of the winter landscape. It will not be a night safe for man nor beast.
For generations, darkness held not simply a lack of light, but danger. People went to bed when darkness came, up early to tend the stock. I still rise early, so used to having the phone ring in the middle of the night, that even on the days I can "sleep in", I'm usually up by 6. Years of habit, ingrained.
The first "lamps" go back to about 70,000 BC. A hollow rock, shell or object of nature were filled with moss or such material that was then doused with animal fat and ignited. Later, oil was used for lamps. Light was a luxury, as most light oils were also a source of food, and even the palaces of the wealthy were lit only by the small flickering flames. The earliest portable light was the horn lantern made from the horns of domesticated cattle and carried outdoors as well.
In the 18th century, the central burner was invented, the fuel source now tightly enclosed in metal, and a adjustable metal tube controlling the intensity of the fuel burning and intensity of the light. After that, the rest is well known history.
You only have to walk in the lighting section at Lowe's to see how many kinds of light there are, some costing hundreds. My home is simple with lights that are practical, that illuminate what is necessary.
Light is not just a luxury, light is a survival tool. In my "get out of dodge kit", ready to pop in the back of the truck in a moment, are lanterns and lightweight LED flashlights. They have long battery lives and can be spotted from quite far away. I keep a flashlight by my bed, and others around the house. There are candles in each room and when I have had a fireplace, enough firewood by the fire to get a blaze going to heat food or provide light or heat until daylight comes.
Flashlights have saved the day more than once. It was a long summer day, there in the Southern Plains and I was alone with my black lab. He usually stayed in close to the house, with the coyotes around, night was not a safe place outside. But one night as I let him out in the yard one last time, he went after a rabbit and did not come back.
The horse was out, oblivious to the rolling dark clouds, his ears small and picked up but giving no sign as to which way the dog went. I could not hear him, the wind sinking into my ears and my heart, speaking there again when it had ceased in a diminishing cache of echoes that blocked out all other senses.
I got a flashlight and my pistol and headed out down the gravel road, into the fields where he would flush doves. If he wasn't there I'd look to the woods, where his favorite pond lay. He wasn't there in the open land. I backtracked, calling his name, starting to be more worried as I heard a coyote howl in the distance.
In the end he found me. Against the dark doorway of the path to the pond he materialized like a wraith, the reflection of my flashlight against his eyes like two small torches. He ran to me as the sky began an ominous rumble while in the distance a coyote howled his own challenge to the sky. "Come ON, I cried, we need to get back to the house now". Without leash, as none was needed, we scurried back to the house, the flashlight a beam out into the dark gravel, the night watching back with silver eye and silver claw there in the shadows.
We got back to the house just as the familiar siren sounded from town a few miles away. Not having time to get to the shelter at the local school, we spent the next couple of hours in the bathroom, with a candle and some snacks for us both, while the tornado played hockey with a trailer park about 8 miles away.
Tonight I will sit with my rescue lab Abby, a single lamp lighting the screen as I write into the night a small candle burning nearby that smells of clean cotton. The night is more sound than illumination, the inhalation of twilight covering the sky, the whisper of clouds pulling up over the sun as it prepares to sleep. Outside I do not know what dangers lurk, but inside, in light and armed, I know I am prepared. Abby is lost in her dreams, paws twitching on the floor. I'm lost in pale light on a keyboard as my fingers move in shadow, my pistol laying within reach, for you never know when the darkness will come, sitting snug in your house, snug in our nation, believing you are safe.
There are lights outside, stronger than a candle, one to light the porch and the windows. Shrubs are cut away so the windows are visible from the street and my neighbor across the way. Light is not simply a tool, it is a weapon against the darkness.
For there are not many things that can withstand the scrutiny of light.
We need to turn up the light to lay the words bare for examination. Words of the Constitution. Words that could have been scribed in blood, in which you can not just see, you can hear those that fought and died for those freedoms, there in a volley of fire and the diminishing thunder of hooves. Better that, than to be cloistered away in walls of our own making, with only the far away sound of circumvented wind, carrying hollow words that that fly away as dust, without weight.
Some will call me jaded. But I look hard at everything any more, be it evidence, intentions, actions and words. Words are easy, intents lure us blindly like the fallacy of Spring. I look and I listen and I listen as closely to what is not being said.
Like the rabbit and fox, the small creatures of the cold and the sometimes desolate, we remain alert, we learn and live and if we are lucky, we live where we can hold on to that which is our life.I stand up near the window looking out into the darkness, always aware. For evil doesn't just come with blazing light and trumpet. It comes in swift secrecy, clothed in the illusion of peace, disregarding of the law, full of intent, coming to us quietly, draped in the cold dark garment of winter that falls to the ground with the ease of its intent.
My right and my defense sits in the flickering candlelight, always ready, as am I.