Essays from
Giving Ground


The last of the oatmeal jam bars aren't even being snitched. It may be because we all have winter colds and can't breathe through our noses and eating crumbly bars with our mouths open is so graceless. But the kitchen of an old farmhouse notices, notices that the delirious holiday baking is over, notices that the mail being laid on the side table is bills, not parcels of holiday fudge.

An old farmhouse "parlor" in midwinter sees the sudden lack of Christmas tree, card stacks, baskets of evergreen boughs, as all these are put away for another year. An old country house in midwinter sags under the weight of ice cliffs overhanging the roof.

The homeowners deliberately leave all the wreathes up on all the outside doors until the end of February, just a little bit after Valentine's Day; their bright red velveteen ribbons still seem right for that holiday, and here in the north country, it is cold enough outside that the evergreens stay bright green for a long time. It's important for everyone, dweller and dwelling, to catch a glimpse of bright ribbon these dark January days. The owners haul in, too, extra 50 pound bags of bird seed for the 'duration,' this time of year when the sky and earth are whitewashed. The thistle seed, sunflower seed, peanut hulls and corn encourage purple finches, redpolls, pine and evening grosbeaks, and blue jays to stay among us, treat us to their flashes of tropical color.  Suet hangs in a wire basket for chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, Canada jays - or Whiskey Jacks, so-called because they used to stay around the lumber camps in winter and eat pancakes, preferably with butter and syrup, out of the loggers' hands.

I wish, for the sake of this old house, that the January issues of "Better Homes and Gardens" and "Martha Stewart Living"  would make more of a point of featuring winter homes with icey steps laced with gravel and sawdust for safety, rows of soggy mittens laid out along the tops of wood boxes, piles of boots in the foyer, dried flower arrangements from which all the expensive, brightly colored, "store-boughten" centers have been gnawed out by the cats. An old country house could feel, then, that it had a chance, that growing older in winter could still be done with aplomb.

And then there is a knock on the door. Several knocks, in fact, and insistent at barely 10 degrees above zero. People have slid off the icey roadway at the same slick curve we've all gotten on the wrong side of, and - heavens! Open the door, put on some cocoa, poke up the wood fire, use the telephone - and all the chrome and satin lofts in Chicago can be as smug as they like: the brand new friends who came to this old farmhouse needed it, needed its warmth and light and welcome, and without blinking, added their boots and mittens to the heap.

Copyright 2012 by Pam Thompson

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Giving Ground
Superior National Forest
1223 Little Creek Road
Brimson, MN 55602