Enduring below freezing and sub-zero weather is a challenge. Green plants in the window are a delightful remedy if not evidence of common grace.
The outside air temperature this morning, when I woke up, was -6°F. Won’t event mention the windchill factor. The window completely frosted over. It is December. Wonderfully cold and beautiful.
Almost wanted to spend the day in bed composing a new list of twelve Advent poems to accompany the ever popular post Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry). Here’s one Advent poem I am considering for a new list.
The birth of wonder
by Madeleine L’Engle
When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully
able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.
As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
A joy more lasting.
And so rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Judgement and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.
 “The birth of wonder” by Madeleine L’Engle. Published in the book WinderSong by Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.
Imagine my surprise when I spotted several ice circles slowly spinning in the waters north of the art museum on an afternoon walk. Beautiful. Like gears grinding away rough edges into glistening discs in the afternoon sun. The delicate slushy, glassy sound reminds me of wind chimes. But there is no wind today. Flags like wilted flowers hang on the poles around the war memorial building. A hawk is perched on a lamp post.
The noisy hurly burly of East Town’s traffic and many construction projects is a dim echo to the mesmerizing music of ice circles.
I could sit here beside those circling ice discs the rest of the day. Or at least until the sun sets.
But only a few minutes remain of my break. And there is work to be done — projects to complete. Matters of consequence.
With hesitation, I leave the spinning ice circles to perform their tranquil charms to the neighboring ducks, gulls and the lone hawk.
When night winds leaves subzero signatures on the Saturday morning window, it is time for coffee and jazz and few lines of poetry… 
Try to count the colors
In a frosted window at sunrise
try to imagine the hues and shades
Of a Wisconsin winter morning…
 With apologies to Three Crosses, inspired by song “Michelangelo”
Yesterday’s afternoon walk was a bit chilly. Air temperature was around 10°F with wind chill of -7°F. Especially at the corner of Broadway and East Wisconsin. It was practically a wind tunnel. Crossing Water Street was not much better. But I finally made it across the bridge and to the River Walk.
The river was not quite frozen. And for the most part, very few people are out for a wintery stroll. One woman pulled her faux fur lined hood over her head and quickly shuffled out of the Wells Fargo building to a waiting SUV. A couple guys, both dressed in thick dark coats, waited for a bus. There was a man waiting at the street corner smoking a cigarette. He wore a red flannel jacket and no gloves.
Funny how cigarette smoke is so distinct in the frigid air. The subtle distinctions between Camel Turkish Gold 100’s, Marlboro Red, Newport Menthol Blue and Chesterfield Bronze is almost as unmistakable as the scent of a fajita or a falafel. Wondered why he had no gloves.
There was a Tranströmer poem I tried to recall as I walked along the River Walk. My breath, thick clouds, attempted to signal a line of the poem. What was it about? A train? A couple in a hotel? Something about night? Or was it a horizon? The frozen river surface does not help. And forty minutes in the cold temperature sent me back to the warm harbor of the office building.
So, the highways and roads were a bit slippery with tonight’s snowfall. Traffic was slow due to multiple auto accidents and road conditions.
But it is Wisconsin. And it is January. And it warmed up to 13°F — which is better than this morning at -8°F.
Glad to be off the roads. Time to warm up with a hot toddy. Awhile back I read this article from The Guardian on how to make the best hot toddy. My tonic is pretty simple: 2 ounces of boiled water, 1 ounce Knob Creek, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and 3 cloves.
But what if I am out of cloves?
Here is the big question for tonight, do I substitute nutmeg and cloves with a stick of cinnamon? What is your recipe for the perfect winter night hot toddy?
Even though it is 30°F outside, it is still nice to take a walk break. Walked to the Third Ward and all the way to Milwaukee’s orange spiky thing by the art museum before heading back to the office.
A concrete slab harvested from a demolished city building defends Pershing Park from the frozen Lake Michigan waves. It is large — the size of a small sedan — and surrounded by smaller rubble. Rebar and concrete and ice mix into a violent Jackson Pollack sketch as waves thunder into the shoreline.
The temperature outside is in the single digits — lower with the windchill. In the small sedan, the heater is not working. Or not well. The driver’s toes — numb from the cold — curl and uncurl. The driver is trying to capture an image — a photograph — of the spray from the waves when they hit the shoreline and shoot twenty feet into the air.
The visit to the public library introduced the driver to books by E. L. Doctorow, Wendell Berry and Alberto Manguel and a book on the history of time by Oxford Press. Timing the waves as they advance on the shoreline creates an illusion of distance. Patiently the driver composes a few more images.
The icy air advances deeper into epidermis. Reluctantly the driver places the lens cap on the camera and stows it in a black bag next to the library books.
“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.
I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind:
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.  It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.
By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Call of the Wild. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?
NOTES:  Technically, The Call of the Wild and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.