I think it’s safe to say that most of us are ready to move on from winter. This last round of snow and ice has left me walking gingerly along the path toward spring, muttering to myself about that nasty polar vortex that descended on us from our supposed friends up above the arctic circle. “Bah humbug,” I recently told one of my winter-loving pals who can’t get enough of the white stuff. “Show me some green!”
But between you and me, the truth is, winter’s chill showcases our world in crisp, clear light. Summer has its subtleties of light and shadow but winter tells it like it is. It’s the most mathematical of seasons: we measure snowfall in inches; we count degrees on the thermometer; we plow long, straight lines along our roadways to keep us in our proper lanes. In summer, we may choose to wander through leafy glades, but come winter, we go from point A to point B as fast as we dare. Pythagoras would be proud!
Wait a minute…who? Pythagoras, that’s who, the ancient Greek philosopher whose school of thought influenced the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. High schoolers know him best for his eponymous theorem that teaches us that a2 + b2 = c2 but that bit of mathematical wizardry is almost an afterthought in his legacy. Before he turned to triangles, Pythagoras postulated the lovely notion of musica universalis—the doctrine that the planets move in accordance with mathematical equations that produce an inaudible symphony known as the music of the spheres. And if that’s not impressive enough, Pythagoras is also credited with introducing mankind to metempsychosis—the transmigration of souls—the belief that holds that all souls are immortal and when one body dies, its soul enters into a new body. It should also be noted here that Pythagoras was a vegetarian, a lifestyle that might explain many of his revolutionary ideas. Come to think of it, that’s not unlike my own vegetarian friend, Eggman.
Anyway, all this was certainly not on my mind as I drove down a little-used county road a few weeks ago and came upon a starkly beautiful winter scene—a tidy farm, all angles and shapes and colors that seemed to float above one of its snow-clad field. It seemed the very manifestation of winter geometry: pin-neat, measurable, defined—the kind of solvable equation that would have captured old Pythagoras’ estimable attention. In summer, the farmhouse and its outbuildings might well have been obscured by tall stalks of corn, but on that cold, clear day, that farm’s plentiful potential was revealed in all its latent glory. That’s winter’s way: it distills an object or a scene down to its base essence. Nothing is hidden, everything’s in plain sight. What you see in winter is what you get.
A few weeks from now, all this snow and ice will be gone and that barren field will be plowed, seeded, and reset to life. That is as it should be, but for now, here on winter’s cusp, I’m reminded that even in paucity, there’s beauty and bounty…if only we are willing to see it.
I bet Pythagoras would agree.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.