By two a.m. the fire in the woodstove had died down enough that the cold took over. Under heavy blankets and comforter, I could feel the temperature dropping in the house. The electric radiator in the bedroom is no match for six degrees, even with window curtains pulled tight.
A quick trip to the bathroom brought me shivering back to the bed. With the covers pulled up to my nose, I imagined myself not in this last century of modern comforts but rather in the earlier vast millennia of human existence. The cave, skin-covered hut or even the wooden long house would have been far colder, warmed only by open hearth fires and our breath. Heavy furs of mammoth or bear lay under and over us as we curled our knees to our chest and ducked our cold ears into the hidden warmth.
Fire tenders dragged long dead limbs further into the blaze and tugged their fur cloaks around their shoulders, watching as sparks flew into the air and ensuring the fire stayed in its place. Cabbages, apples, onions, and turnips rested in straw lined pits, safe from the cold, and around the perimeter of the shelter, chunks of meat sat semi-frozen, waiting to be brought to the flat rocks at the fire’s edge to drip fat and send up tantalizing aroma. Even then, as food cooked, as men dragged in more wood from the pile near the shelter’s door, we kept our furs tucked over us, waiting for spring.
In the long hours of midwinter night, sleep comes and goes. Fantastical dreams shift us from our known world, so that we fly into the future or past. I relived the death of a loved one and the loss resonated through me, and then magic knowledge enabled me to speed backwards in time with him until I found a new path, a year when a different choice meant longer life, and even before that, an even better restart. Our lives moved forward from there and when we came to the fatal day, he lived.
What was the magic? In the dream, I told myself I would remember. But I don’t. I remember that it was simple, that if I had let myself know what I really know, it would have been obvious. But it’s not.
Other visions of long sleep arise and fade, memories recast in distorted frames, possible futures emblazoned on unfamiliar horizons. The mysteries of embodiment tease around the edges, other forms, foreign memories. Deep in the warm thicket of my bed, I am free to fly away and see it all.
My feet find warm spots at the dog’s side, where the cat lies curled. A screech owl screams its cry at the wood’s edge. At the three a.m. passing of the train, its distant warning echoes up from the valley and sets the coyotes singing. At four-thirty, I’m awake again, fresh from another restive dream, and wondering if I should brave the cold to start new fire.
I wait, snuggled in all my wealth of warmth, finding one comfortable position, then another, until the night starts to lighten and the dogs go outside. Now the quick wood catches in its cove of dried twigs and crumpled newspaper, and the cast iron around it warms. I make tea, open the curtains to stare out at the pale blue and pink world of dawn. Winter sets its own rhythm, and I am content to follow.