Sometimes when the cold winter wind screams, seeming to carry nothing but cruelty and pain, it can seem like the best thing to do is scream back. Feet planted and shoulders squared, lean in and let loose with a howl, a yowl or a yelp. Play with the tone and vary the pitch, high, low or otherwise, but always, always keep the volume right where it should be, turned up all the way to 11.
Curses and epithets, prayers and pleas alike stream away, drowned out by the roar and carried off on the southbound arctic express. Tears of rage, frustration and grief are jerked from their tiny ducts, frozen and shredded into bitter icy shards that sparkle for an instant in the low light before sublimating to insignificance and, as the significance of insignificance sinks in, turn that banshee wail, that angry shriek, into a self-affirming, barbaric yawp of defiant existence.
Stomp and shout, swagger and yell. Stand tall, strut and feel like you matter in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Wipe your nose and sigh with the relief of release. Hitch up your trousers. Rock up onto your toes and back. Go ahead, shake your fist and give an emphatic nod of your head like the screaming made a difference, like somehow the future needs you and your name actually matters to the trees. Claim what you consider to be your rightful place in the order of things as you stand in the teeth of a freezing gale regaining control and, just when you think dominion is once more yours to assert, a burst of high-velocity cold will rip the hat from your head and hurl it into a ditch.
Sometimes, when the cold winter wind screams, impotent hollering and self-important posturing in the face of invisible forces are inappropriate and it might be best to charge through the drifts and beyond the edge of the woods. Move past pucker brush, over blowdowns and beneath snags ready to fall on a head with disastrous results. Follow the contour laterally across the hill, deeper and deeper, where tangles and sticks thin out due to lack of light and the going gets easier.
The scream of the wind becomes a moaning in the tree tops and trunks creak and groan in the cold as they flex. Maple and beech give way to balsam and hemlock and winter’s fury gives way to stillness beneath sheltering evergreen boughs. Deer base themselves back here for weeks at a time, moving when they can, browsing as they go and fresh water flows from springs that never freeze, even when the temperature drops below the point where most thermometers simply give up.
The tranquility is inviting and triggers a longing to linger but drawn-out moments of quiet contemplation must be cut short because, no matter how far removed the punishing wind may seem, the fact remains that it is cold. In the open the cold can come with a slap or at least a persistent, piercing push but this deep in it simply envelops with a slow, absorbing embrace and stopping for too long can all too easily become permanent.
Moving along generates body heat and carefully planned layers help hold it in but there are only so many places to go – and only so many ways to get there – on a day like this. Any route to any destination is bound to cross paths with the wind and its cold bony fingers, eager to pluck at those layers and liberate that heat or, failing that, snatch that silly hat right off your head again.
Sometimes when the cold winter wind screams the best thing to do is not stand in it shaking a fist at something that doesn’t care while your clothes flap wildly and your hat flies off. Sometimes when the cold winter wind screams the best thing to do is not plunge into the woods heading for a secret spot the wind can’t find, where if something goes wrong no one will know until spring when they find you tucked away back there like a badly freezer-burned bag of peas.
You can do those things if you think they might make you feel better but sometimes when the cold winter wind screams the best thing to do is scratch your belly, smack your lips and find a nice sheltered spot like that one over there between the window and the woodstove, by the violets.