Inside the Book:
Title: The Book of Barkley
Author: L.B. Johnson
Publisher: Outskirts Press
The first winter storm of the season.
It comes with a lofty and powerful sigh. Like death and taxes, you are not exempt. Depending on where you live, it may or may not include snow, but winter WILL arrive, not with a whimper, but a howl.
It's usually preceded by a trumpet of doom from the weather channels. Is it just me - or does it seem like the last couple of years the online Weather Channel is a constant heralding of disaster that half the time are not near as bad as what they portent - interspersed by lots of articles and photos of big scary bugs and sharks? I have to hunt to find an actual usable weather map on there, laid in among all the videos of "You Can't Believe She Did THIS".
Give me an old fashioned weather map, with more isobars and less arachnids please. Sometimes the weather is boring - and dressing it up with doom and gloom might be good for the ratings. But it does the unwary no good when an unreality is made a possibility, a probability, then a matter of fact, for no other reason than fear becoming words.
But one does need to stay forewarned. On Friday, I made a lunch trip to the grocers for perishables found the aisles clogged, not by the young, but by the middle aged and seniors, buying extra bread and milk and water, perhaps some firewood. I don't think it was so much they were retired and off work, but they've seen a city come to a halt in a fierce storm, when having the latest Apple toy and an awesome haircut is not going to keep you safe or warm.
As I drove towards home, I could read all the markers in the sky, too many years as a pilot to be unaware of the changes in the atmosphere even as the sun still shines. How many days have I spent in a cockpit looking at a sky that's coming at me at 400 mph, held under its spell, rooted in mute attention, waiting for the wind to drive a wedge between me and where I wanted to be.
Some storms you just stayed the heck away from. Others rose without forecast, especially across the Atlantic. You might get a heads up in a monotone voice on the radio that warns of "intense precipitation" in a tone that could just as easily be saying "We're going to have to break that bone again". Other times it was simply "surprise!" as the sky became an angry mob of clouds.
In those moments, the heavens could go from clear to a seemingly instant towering outburst of fury, as if all of the air had turned on you in confrontation, the tenuousness earth only a memory behind you. In what seemed like just minutes, your craft would go from a powerful machine - a defender against the elements - to a living being thrown to an angry crowd, struck by blows, flung down, pummeled and kicked. As we scrambled out from under the melee with a pilot's instinct that is thought, intent and training - there was more than once I thought "I could have been a CPA!"
Yet, putting the engine covers on, the ground firmly beneath my feet, feeling as though I'd been in a paint shaker, the world around me took on a view I'd not see if I was in an office all day. Every sense heightened, there is this gnawing sense of oneness with the world, of order, of peace.
So I still look at the sky with a pilot's eyes, even if all I have to worry about is getting stuck waiting on a train between the store and home. As the signals come down, there is no worry, no time schedule, only the wind that hits the truck broadside, rocking it ever so gently, as if a child's cradle. Now and then the sun peaks out, glinting beyond things in swooping shafts that set fire to the tracks before being doused in cold shadow again.
At home, the house is readied. There's deicing salt by the back steps in a large bucket, shovels for both front and back porch. The flashlights are set out in easy reach, the beeswax candles available in each room, an extra blanket out for the bed, should the power go out. Then, lastly, the truck is moved to be just outside the back door. It will end up covered in snow, but the garage is far behind the house, an ocean of cold darkness I don't wish to tread in the dark, out of sight and sound of any neighbor, should I fall. My husband is on the road this night, it's just the dog and I, as we wait until the wind taps at the door like an unwanted peddler.
As night descends and the snow begins to fall, the sounds around me change. I can't hear it within the house, but from the porch, as I let the dog down the steps for a last pit stop, a busy street a block away goes almost silent. What few cars are still out, are enveloped by the snow, the screech of engine and tires muted to a few ponderous thumps as they drive over and past some construction areas.
The whole landscape, now covered in the first couple inches of flakes, has a patina to it, like an old wall that has been plastered by hand. The trees are bare but for a brace of foliage that's clinging on with a death grip, screaming into the wind without words, plucked with a cold hand that tosses their cries to the ground like colorful scraps of paper.
I look up before bringing the dog back in. The sky is bright, as if illuminated from beyond, another light seen through this starry night, a night of wonders and far away mysteries revealed for just a moment as the clouds break, a low crevice in the glittering ice cold that is space - a place where the earth is just one tiny fallen leaf whose cries only God can hear.
I can't help but think that I'm in some sort of cosmic snow globe and as the porch shudders slightly in the wind, I wonder if heaven has tilted the earth just a little to watch the flakes swirl around the lone form of one of its humble creations. I wonder if my brother can look down through that tiny fissure in heaven and see me down here, wearing his coat, pulling it around me for warmth that is beyond fabric or insulation.
I squeeze the salt out of my eyes as the light disappears. For just a moment, there is no snow, no wind at all. A lull has come, the holding of a stormy breath, and I knew I had better get in the house now, the door a beggar's prayer against the cold and the wind.
Back inside, stomping snow off my boots onto the entryway rug, the warmth wraps around me even as the wind outside begins to howl. I hear a voice outside the window. neighbors arriving home, the bark of a dog as it's released, then the shouts as it's called back in from the yard, shreds and remnants of tattered shouting, snatched past the ear - then silence.
There will be no further sounds from outside tonight, but for the swoosh of a snowplow, the mournful cry of an ambulance far away. From inside, only the tick of a clock. Silence is natural to me, in warmth and in deep cold. I will sit with a small glass of amber liquid, the dog curled up in her bed, waiting for the phone to ring, for that voice that is not noise, not a distraction - but rather the penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous din of noises, a small bit of peace beyond the dark ruins of the squall.
The first winter storm. By morning, the temperatures will be down in the single digits, the back steps cleared again, then subdued with salt. The breath catches in my throat as I take that first deep gulp before letting the dog out in the back yard at first light. Like after a big rain, what I breathe in is fresh, that metallic crisp taste of brittle air, the crust where the snow has frozen whispering to me with the slow respiration of our movement, a faint crackle like something coming to life.
I call out to my dog, to come back in the house, my voice simply coiling out of the cold with a sharp recoil that hangs in the cold like an echo.
Sound is returning to the village - the hum of a snow blower, the scrape of a blade against a window, the excited shouts of children a few doors down. The shadows on the snow appear as if laid there by a stencil, the trees draping over them with their burden of white. From a distance the bells calling the faithful to Mass, a long pull of sound dying away behind the trees, as if it were echoing through another morning, another season, where part of you will always linger.
Last night I heard the gentle comments from friends down south, teasing me as to their warm temperatures, their lack of snow. But looking out at the Sunday morning landscape, washed clean in white, the joyful shouts of the innocent in the air, I would not trade this for any spot of warm beach. Here in this thin, eager air, after the storm has passed, every breath is felt, every touch of warmth is savored. I understand, even in the cold, how lucky I am to be alive this day, as I turn towards the bells, walking towards Grace under a gentle shawl of snow.
Meet the Author
A former commercial pilot, LB Johnson grew up out West where she later received a doctorate in a Criminal Justice related field in order to pursue a career in federal service after hanging up her wings. She lives in Chicago with her husband and rescue dog Abby. Mrs. Johnson is active in animal rescue and donates 100% of her writing proceeds to animal rescue organizations across the United States as well as Search Dog Foundation.
Her books include the #1 Amazon Best Sellers "The Book of Barkley" and "Saving Grace - a Story of Adoption". She also has been awarded the Readers Favorite International Silver Book Award for Excellence in Writing.
Check out writing updates and news at her author's webpage http://lbjohnsonauthor.blogspot.com/