Reading, Writing, and XC-Skiing: All ways to sanctify time

This morning my two youngest sisters and my dad have a 2-hour delay from school. For those of you readers who may not be familiar with the weather patterns of Northern New York winters and the attendant consequences, this means  that the weather has been deemed so inclement as to make it less-than-safe to commence school at the normal time today. So! The start of the school day is delayed for a couple hours. Glancing outside the windows this morning, I’m guessing the chief culprits today are freezing rain and excessive wind. Yay for overworked, sleep-deprived teenagers who get to snag a few more hours of sleep! And the mother, too, who doesn’t have to roll out of bed to get the kids out-of-doors quite as early as usual today. Cheers for the hard-working middle-aged educator who gets to linger longer over his coffee and NPR’s Morning Edition news coming in through mild static on the ginormous old boombox radio in the kitchen! And relief for me (who was running late for her appointment to meet her friend to xc-ski at 9 a.m. anyway) who now gets the upstairs hallway where her little desk is situated all to herself – more or less – as the other occupants of the upstairs continue to slumber. An unexpected but welcome holiday all-round.

But I didn’t get on here to talk about the weather this morning. Or maybe I did, since I am intending to write a bit about winter, one of those seasons which is a collection of weather united by common characteristics – in this case, mainly snow and cold.

I came across this article (“In Winter, Keeping Warm with Beloved Books“) again this morning that I originally found a year ago today. (FB Timehop has its uses.) In talking about the book The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, which I have yet to read but am looking forward to doing so soon, the author of the article draws a comparison between one of the chief lessons of monastic life – namely, learning to practice “‘the sanctification of time‘ — the idea that time is a gift which affords us the opportunity to practice humility and to function in the service of others” – and the core purpose of reading, “putting our time to good use and not allowing it to ‘spit us out with appalling ease,’ as Norris puts it.” This makes me think of an entry in Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen which talks about writing as a means of saving the day, or “redeeming the time” – a familiar biblical phrase (in the English rendering, at least) and theme, for sure, recurrent throughout both the Old and New Testaments alike. Reading and writing both as ways to sanctify and redeem time: I like that a lot.

The wind is picking back up again outside. Downstairs, my mom asks my dad if he should put some salt on the stairs off the porch, to melt the ice and provide traction so that slipping becomes less likely. Treacherous stuff, this ice. My sister’s blue dress hangs in the hall off of the mini basketball hoop above her doorway, where it’ll stay hanging the rest of the day instead of being worn since her basketball game originally scheduled for tonight has been cancelled. I’m wrapped in a disintegrating flannel bathrobe my mom made for me as a Christmas gift nearly a decade ago, now, and a patchwork crocheted quilt I made for myself which is also already kind of falling apart, though I only finished it just this past December. I think it’s about time for a new bathrobe; it reached my ankles when my mom first gave it to me, and now it just covers my knees.

But my old bathrobe is familiar and cozy along with being ancient and well-worn, kind of like those books that we keep returning to again and again for comfort-reading, as the aforementioned article discusses. For myself, I don’t so much have set books that I’ve been completely re-reading in entirety this winter; though Mary Oliver’s work is currently my go-to poetry, and I’ve hunted down more than one Harry Potter book in the children’s section of libraries this month, and I keep a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov in my car at all times, just in case. Winter feels to me like a good time for reading Russian Lit in general. I am currently working on Chekov’s Four Great Plays, and have ambitiously begun War and Peace (the latest BBC drama rendition of it has inspired me), though I’m only 18 or so pages into the 1,000+ page work and haven’t read anymore since the first day. (I’m telling myself I’m waiting til I finish Chekov’s plays.) And every winter, it seems I intend to re-read (after many years) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, though I never quite get around to it.

I often feel that this blog of mine is little more than glorified notes to myself (not unlike Hugh Prather’s book of the same title collecting his thought on becoming a person – subtitle). I read books (and articles and poems, etc.) and report back things that struck me from them, mainly in excerpt form. And a lot of times I don’t even bother to elaborate much on these excerpts using my own words, which is probably mostly due to laziness on my part. But if I am ever to be a “real writer” someday, I feel I am still very much in the stage of mostly reading other people’s writing, breathing in the “Greats” and others alike, immersing myself in books and learning from them and loving them the whole while. And with the weather like it is today on so many winter days here in the North Country, reading (and a bit of writing) seems to me the perfect pastime.

Much preferable to cross-country skiing on a morning like this, at any rate, as much as I love it once I finally get myself dressed, ready-to-go, and out the door. (There is definitely a sense of time slowing down to the stopping point, or at least qualitatively changing, when one stands on xc-skis, stock-still in the middle of quiet woods, surrounded on all sides by snow-covered trees, whitened branches, blanketed snow, with flakes drifting down from the sky. Skiing, too, can be a way to sanctify time.)

Which is what I’m off to go do right now. Get dressed and ready to leave the house and possibly to even spend an extended period of time outside in the snow this morning, I mean. It looks so cold out there…

Post-script: The internet went ka-phlooey right before I was able to publish this post this morning; and then I decided to stay in my pajamas and definitely be a bookworm-homebody today after all. No internet access meant I could settle down to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with fewer distractions. All in all, a good choice.

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