Winter Has Come

(I do apologize for the blatant GoT reference while simultaneously stating that I do not own any rights to the trademark or franchise, nor, sadly, a Direwolf.) 

 

Winter. Once upon a time that season was greeted with dread. Winter meant a struggle to survive. A slow and agonizing death for those who did not have enough food put away during the time of plenty, or who did not ration wisely, or were simply unlucky. For some, a quicker death if you got caught in a storm, or an avalanche, trying to supplement your dwindling rations by hunting. And if the snow and the cold didn’t get you, disease and exhaustion and malnutrition were just waiting their turn.

Since the advent of central heating and supermarkets, with airplanes flying in fresh apples from New Zealand and 18-wheelers carting guacamole even deep into the Great White North, “Winter Is Coming” has lost its terror. It is even anticipated with joy – at least it always was by me, perhaps not so much by my dad, who every year dragged the snowblower out of the shed while mumbling astonishingly creative bad words (under his breath of course, so I would not hear. And of course I did, and marveled at his artistry).

DEFCON cucumber, aka “throw on another layer and the BIG hat!”

Winter meant pond hockey, hot chocolate, and a magical forest covered in glittering white.

Maybe that’s why ‘Snowflake’ is deemed such a cute insult. Who fears Winter? Well, maybe Texas does, considering the “The End is Nigh!” panic on social media and every single Interstate as soon as an errant cloud accidentally drops some deadly crystals.

Anatomy of a Snowflake

This particular insult has puzzled me since the first time I heard it, and in the beginning I only derived from the context that it was, in fact, meant as a slight. I mean, they’re pretty, right? Awww you think I’m exquisite, and intricate, and I refract light in tantalizing ways, and I look awesome in closeup pictures? Why, thank you!

A short while ago a young man decided to vent his frustration with the world at large and the female population in particular in the direction of my older daughter. What started as clumsy attempts to get her attention and assert his masculinity by wolf-whistling and strutting around like a rooster with to basketballs pressed to his chest (the latter earned him a “Ru would be proud” comment from the target’s younger sister), quickly deteriorated into becoming an all out nuisance. The unholy trinity of familiar bullshit, from mocking the very physical traits he had glorified earlier (aka “If I can’t touch this radiantly magnificent bosom, I shall now declare I never liked it in the first place”), to questioning the attached young woman’s character (aka “Only a mean and stupid woman would reject me!”), to the carpet bombing of blaming everything and everyone other than himself (aka “If not for evil Feminazis and Liberals my crude advances would be enthusiastically reciprocated!”)

Well, no. Like her mother, the young lady with the Mae West figure and the brains to match the cleavage, does not respond well to rudeness. Unlike her mother, she remained serene in her responses. And was declared a “Snowflake” for telling the young man that he was being vulgar and hurtful.

It got me thinking.

pucksmiley

A 17 year old military brat (and if you’re not familiar with the slang, ‘brat’ in this context is a tender endearment), a hockey-playing, horseback-riding cowgirl who could shoot the wings off a gnat at 300 yards but cries when a dog dies in a movie, a soul so gentle she lets her mother win at Monopoly every damn time, who bakes Christmas cookies for soldiers who are away from their families and unable to get home for the Holidays, who could have planted this rude boy on his hind end with one good shove but chose to politely point out that he was being an equus asinus … is a snowflake.

Well. Alright.

To be sure, this one’s a Northern Snowflake (“You better get your scarf and mittens, dude, where I come from the snow don’t play” – sic) . The kind that rides a blizzard down from the Arctic and delivers a few Canadian pines to your doorstep before settling on your roof along with a few billion buddies. Best get shoveling before the cousins show up. They look fluffy and harmless and very pretty, but only until that roof caves in. Do trust me on that one.

A Tale of Ice and Fire 

Now, my stalwart teenager may not have solved her ‘persistent bully problem’, but her wintry cool response allowed me to look at the situation from a different angle.

Here I was, ready to cover my baby’s six at her “Need backup!” call and breathe fire and doom upon that hapless lad smaugwho felt entitled to her attention, and resorted to increasingly crude and abusive tactics when it did not materialize (cue Smaug: “I am FIRE! I am DEATH!”). Here was my younger daughter, channeling her Norse ancestry (95 lbs of Viking fury sounds funny – until it comes straight at you). Here were the high school teachers poised to intervene and chastise the luckless suitor turned bully, and last but far from least, my daughter’s friends and teammates, ready to unleash a blizzard that would warrant a state of emergency in 47 States (and at least an annoyed “Eh!” in Canada).

It was not needed.

Because there is something terribly sad about the “Suck it up, Buttercup!” and “Fuck your feelings!” crowd. About the raging and ranting and the “I’m just blunt and you can’t deal with it!” cries. There is a hurt in there somewhere, a helplessness, and – so my daughter mused when I expressed my marvel at her composure – perhaps a fear of those feelings we’re supposed to ‘suck up’. A fear that allowing yourself to feel, to have empathy, to show but a flicker of insecurity, would instantly deflate the carefully constructed facade of strength. And then one would see the boy who simply doesn’t know how to talk to the adored young lady, who’s terrified of rejection, and whom noone has ever taught about honey and vinegar. About the courage to show your softer side, and the strength one finds at the heart of vulnerability.

Image result for elsa frozen
Perfectly harmless Snowflake

It’s so much easier to double down on the bluster and the anger than to deal with the feelings of “I wanted her to like me but I’ve hurt her”. So much easier to shift the blame to the perceived ‘snowflake’ for not being able to handle a strong, masculine personality. So much harder to admit “I was being an ass to her, and that’s why she doesn’t want anything to do with me”.

I might not be able to summon the same compassion as my Snowflake for this angry, rude young man. I still think he would greatly benefit from a right ding behind the ear, preferably administered by the collected works of Lord Byron. But I can see where she’s coming from. Or rather, where she stands. On her frozen plain, being a lovely, glittering bit of frozen water, and quite content with it. Just don’t insult her on the other ice. The one where pucks fly. That’s when all bets are off and she will surpass her grandsire’s creativity in unleashing utterly majestic expletives. In three languages.

Let it Snow!

It’s -14ºC in Germany today, or about 6ºF. For three ladies hailing from the Adirondacks, that means one extra layer of flannel, and the good boots when walking the fluffy dog.

A fine, crisp cold that nonetheless creeps into your bones and reminds you why our ancestors didn’t mess around with Winter. That even with our sturdy walls and readily available fuel to heat them, even with our internal combustion engines that tirelessly bring food and supplies, even with mighty power plants, we are not quite so safe as we like to think. When the sap freezes in the trees and only the bitter wind breaks the deadly silence of the forest, that bright white blanket of snowflakes is still beautiful. But you don’t feel inclined to call it harmless.

Said the youngest of the ladies, her breath forming small clouds in the crystal clear air: “This ain’t no joke, brother. Yegawds. You two keep going if you want, the dog and I have enough brains to go home and hide under the furs. Auf Wiedersehen!”

February 2018 - Snowlflakes

 

 

 

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A Soldier’s Christmas

It sucks not being home this time of year.

There are perks – amazing ones – to being stationed in Germany, rather than tracking Santa via NORAD from another sandbox. All throughout the Holiday Season there are distractions galore. Magical Christmas Markets beckon. Small towns and major cities engage in a quintessentially German competition over who has the best decorations, the most whimsical attractions, the finest foods, the most awesome events. You can tell they’re German, because they’d rather traverse the Arctic in pink satin shorts than be caughtImage result for romantic christmas market regensburg doing anything tacky, overblown, … *coff coff* American *coff*. No, it’s elegant understatement for the Teutons, or if you have to go all in, do it in a playful, not quite taking yourself seriously way. So you get rows of miniature log cabins decorated with intricate woodwork and tasteful lighting, serving food and drink and selling handmade toys … right next to a bunch of donkeys with Santa hats. Yes, live donkeys, and a rather bored looking cow. Do watch your just purchased Lebkuchen around the longears.

With Gluhwein and Bratwurst Semmel warming your insides, and your new best friend Josef the donkey searching your pockets for leftover crumbs, the pangs of homesickness are just that. Little bittersweet specks of frost in the warm glow.

But it still sucks.

The native population – an attraction in their own right – will not let you dwell, however. Not once they’ve adopted you, like one would a friendly, if rather quirky and not very bright puppy. Now that you’re theirs, you’re dragged to ski trips, beer league hockey games, and cheerful gatherings at the local inn. These will resemble pagan revelry and involve the lighting of candles (unless Ms Sabine accidentally burns down the wreath Related imageagain), a mildly inebriated Mr. Florian playing the Zither (or a three man band in Lederhosen bringing the house down), and ever more fantastic dishes. If you thought you knew Bavarian cuisine – you ain’t seen nothing yet, brother.

You will also be introduced to the Jagerbomb’s big older brother – the Jaegertee. Do not let the sedate name fool you – this stuff is made for Bavarian stomachs fortified by pigs’ feet and fiery horseradish, and it will end with bewildered Americans stumbling from one snowdrift to the next while caroling like lovesick moose (meese? mooses?).

But it still sucks.

Because as Christmas Eve rolls around wrapped in freezing mist and all grows quiet, as the base falls into a watchful doze with those who were lucky enough to catch a flight home long gone, as the natives retreat into the loving or at least drunken embrace of their families, you look around and see those familiar faces.

The Ones Who Stay Behind

They’re not the same every year. PCS is part of military life, and the guy you worked with and had beers with last year is sending a Christmas card from Benning this year. But they are familiar in that they all have familiar expressions. Some slightly forlorn, some melancholy, some determined to make the best of it, some just grateful for a bit of peace and quiet, some settling into the routine of holding down the fort. All of them with nowhere else to go.

I’m one of the luckier specimens, with two dependents and sufficient rank to live in a nicer military housing area. We didn’t go home this year for various reasons, and my two military brats have been in this situation more than once. They take it in stride. And they, too, see those members of their tribe who got the shortest end of the Christmas tree. They’re as familiar with them as they are with the smell of lived-in ACUs, muddy boots, and DoD schools.

So a few years ago we started our own Holiday tradition. We call it Christmas for simplicity, though we’re neither Christians nor attend mass, but in a nod to our Scandinavian ancestry we have a tree and lights and a fine feast (we’re also stubbornly trying to import the Jólabókaflóð – so far with limited, but mildly encouraging success). And on the 25th we’re gathering up the stray members of our tribe. The young single soldier and the divorcee without the money to go home, the grizzled war horse who stuck around pulling duty so those with families can catch a break, the unattached SGT with estranged parents. Bring your friends. Yes, that quirky 11Bravo can come, as long as he doesn’t try to puppy-nap our dog again.

The Longest Night

Take away the ornaments, the reindeer, the carols and the shopping craze for the perfect gift, and I still believe we would huddle together as the days grow short and the light Related imagewanes. We’d still seek out our families – blood or no – and draw close to the hearth fires. Because somewhere in the ancient, primal parts of our brains that howl at the moon and don’t buy into the modern gimmicks just yet, we feel the cold claws of winter coming to take the most vulnerable of our pack.

Is it a coincidence that Christianity picked the time celebrated as the return of the light for as long as humanity has existed for their own expression of hope? And deep down, does it matter as long as the message is carried onward?

Even the longest night ends. The world keeps turning, the seasons change. The circle of life keeps rolling on. And in Ned Stark’s words: “When Winter comes the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. So gather your own and raise a glass to life, roast that bird and sing a song, because we’re all in this together.

It sucks not being home. Home with your first tribe, your family and old friends. Home, where everything is familiar and comforting. Even drunk uncle Harry and his hopelessly ancient and out of tune guitar. Maybe especially him.

But it’s OK. It really is.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Mother and children and a fluffy dog, 14 uniformed personnel decidedly out of uniform (though that ugly sweater should qualify as psych warfare), 1 DoD civilian and a stray spouse, one large turkey, a-wassailing they go…

Christians, heathens, a SGT declaring himself the mandatory Jew and cheerfully drowning out the “Jingle Bells” crowing atheist (yes they do exist in foxholes) with an off-key rendition of something with a Dreidel. “Die Hard” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. Surprisingly little shop talk. A happy dog gorged on ham and bird. Stories of home. Bittersweet.

We’re OK.

A Happy Yuletide to All, a Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Peace and Hope and Chocolate! 

 

 

Winter Solstice

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it’s queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Robert Frost)

Solstice