Our luck was not destined to hold, however. Shortly after the new year, after I had recovered from the week-long hangover that resulted from an ill-planned New Year's party but before I forgot the pain involved with that incident, a winter storm raged across the seas from the Mainland, gathering strength over its long ocean journey. For two days the wind howled and snow descended with a fury, burying the landscape.
Kathy and I did not set foot outside our cottage, drinking endless cups of tea, re-reading favorite books, and generally getting on one another's nerves. When, on the third morning, the sun rose and we could see the endless cascade of snow had stopped falling, I could take no longer being confined to the house. Donning my warmest boots, coat, hat, muffler, scarf, and gloves, I forced open the front door - drifts of snow had risen nearly a third of the height of the door - and stepped into the white ocean.
I am not tall, and though the new snow was powdery I struggled to walk through its knee-high depth. For about a half-hour, the effort had a strangely calming effect, and I felt my grumpiness at Kathy dissipate. The next half-hour went by in a blur, with little in my head, and I walked as though in a trance. When I became aware of my surroundings again, I realized I was soaked through to the skin below the waist and freezing cold. Furthermore, I had no idea where I was.
Through my discomfort I realized it was crazy to think I was lost. I had lived in Caledon for years; I knew the place intimately. Yet I would have sworn I had never seen this area before. True, the landscape was different from its usual vibrant colors, displaying little more than a uniform shade of white. But where were the trees, the houses, the people? I was alone in a prairie of snow that extended as far as the eye could see.
The only thing that interrupted the snow was a small object far in the distance. Though hard to tell in the glare, the object appeared to be… a single Caledon rose, growing uncertainly through the blanket of snow. How could this be?
The exhaustion rippled through me as a wave. With single-minded focus, I staggered toward the rose. The rational part of my mind urged me to stop, to harness my fading strength and find shelter. But I was drawn to that unlikely, that impossible rose, alive and growing despite the efforts of Mother Nature. I forced myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other, slowly drawing nearer to my prize.
Close now. The rose - and, indeed, it was a Caledon rose - was tantalizingly near. With the last of my strength, I reached out to the flower as though it would re-energize me. I extended my arm, extended my fingers… and found myself falling face first into the snow.
* * *
"When I finally left my bed, I saw that you were gone. When you didn't return for several hours, I inquired with our neighbors as to whether they had seen you. We followed your footprints in the snow to the meadow behind the house. You had collapsed in the meadow and were freezing to death. Now drink this chicken broth. You're not too old to be bossed around by your elder sister."
"And the rose?"
"The rose? Whatever are you talking about?"
"The Caledon rose, growing out of the snow."
"Sister, you must be more ill than I had thought. How could a rose grow this time of year, much less through the snow?"
I sipped the broth. How indeed? How could I have become lost in the small meadow? So much of what we see is illusion.
(Written to Bella Morte's Where Shadows Lie album, especially "Winter" and "December Dreams," and to Dinosaur Jr.'s I Bet on Sky.)