Nothing like a winter in Dixie

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ah. Winter in Dixie.

I've seen the fog turn to ice on the green needles of the pines flanking the road from Hanover to Number Nine. Sunlight glistening against the crystals made the reflected beams bounce all around until they almost blinded anyone who refused to squint. The sound heard with the slightest of breezes was that of a thousand muted wind chimes filling the forest.

Even the heartiest of drivers must admit that the drive down Dodd Mountain to Mountain View is always more than a little scary when the blacktop is covered with a thin sheet of frozen moisture. Yet, there is something very special, almost magical, about the mountains of northern Arkansas in wintertime.

I've made the trek while trying to get back up north to the city on New Year's Day after visiting the place on the Tomahawk for the holidays. And I always hated to see the hills disappear in the rear-view mirror.

I have clear memories of holidays spent at the old Stewart place on top of the hill out in Luber. I can remember, as a child, piling into a large feather bed with brothers and cousins, trying to find some escape from the frigid air while in the next room the fire flickered and crackled in the belly of an old-fashioned wood-burning stove. I remember mornings spent tromping to the pond through the snow to help grandpa break holes in the ice so the cattle could drink. Grandma's biscuits, the ones grandpa called terrapins, always warmed the soul after a trek out to the barnyard to pitch hay or feed to the animals. I remember seeing the embers glowing in the ash pile left out by the fence after reloading the stove so early on those wintry days. And I can still remember just how cold the wooden seat of an outhouse can feel in late December and early January.

On the other side of Turkey Creek, much more recently, I've seen times when the road from Prim to Sunny Slope was nothing but a sheet of densely packed snow; when the piney groves on either side of the road seemed to reach for the ground -- they were so laden with fresh, heavy snow. And I've felt the teeth of the wind as it blew hard and mean across the upper end of Greer's Ferry Lake.

Here in Mid-Missouri, the fields are bare this time of year, and most of the trees have shed their leaves for the winter. To someone who loves the mountains and all their greenery, the place looks gray and bleak as the old year passes.

Someday, as we are want to say when we're still young and full of ideas for the future, I may winter in the mountains. Maybe I'll fill the truck with firewood and jerky and find a cabin in the Rockies, somewhere out in western Montana.

Yeah. Someday.

But for now, I'll just be happy to reminisce about those long-gone winters in Dixie.

The Shepherd's Heart appears on Thursdays.