Dark Winter Light

the cold curiosities we find hiding in the night

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

It’s so bright outside. In the middle of the night. I clicked off the little lamp on my nightstand, and now the bedroom windows are blooming with light. The shades are shut, but still it comes through. I think of movies where alien ships land in the backyard. But this is different. The light stands still, waiting. No glitter and flash. Like an empty chair pulled away from the table.

This is what happens when it snows in a city like ours, when husky clouds hang low in the night. Streetlights and store signs throw up their dull, bulky electricity until the sky, murky and silent, glows.

I don’t even know what color you should call it.

Outside my 1am window, our town is flooded by wannabe light from above, as a pink-but-not-really-pink haze oozes onto everything. The snowbanks, the sidewalks, the hushed porches and doorsteps. This is not the world we remember. This is a brightness moving like gravy, swelling and sluggish.

Outside my 1am window, our town is flooded by wannabe light from above, as a pink-but-not-really-pink haze oozes onto everything. The snowbanks, the sidewalks, the hushed porches and doorsteps. This is not the world we remember. This is a brightness moving like gravy, swelling and sluggish.

But people love their gravy.

And so do I. This light is not depressing for me. I’m fascinated to see so much on a night like tonight. It’s not sun, moon, or star light. It’s a secret. And that makes it a wonder.

Man made? I guess so. Mostly. People call it pollution. Yet the snow and the clouds have always been out there in the black, gazing at our dingy windowpanes.

Elsewhere in the house, little green and red lights pepper the family room, the kitchen, the darkness. Telephones and computers and coffeemakers. The clocks. They are asleep. And charging.

I walk to the back of the house, grab the string, pull open the blinds, and wow. I can see it all. Every finger of snow laid across every charcoal tree branch. Every link in the fence squaring off the yard. The dead stalks of plants I maybe should have clipped off months ago. The immaculate snow over in the sandbox.

This is winter. And Wisconsin.

Winter is a complicated season with so many hats and coats and boots. We pull down the shovels and we figure out why the damn snowblower won’t start. We borrow car battery charger things from our friends and we plead with the furnace to keep working. Or we struggle and search for a warm place to sleep.

But winter is so simple. It buries our life and hides almost everything away. Look at what’s left, at what juts from the snowy fields. Trudge that way. 

I go back to my bed.

I’d like to say we people of Wisconsin – who are seasoned by a lifetime of cold months and the yearly lessons on how to thrive within them – I’d like to say that we sleep deeply and well. Snow covers our dirt and above that, thick, soft clouds cover the sky. We can doze beneath it all, finding content tucked into the heft of our quilts.

But I can’t say that. Because we worry. We tumble the same smooth rocks around our skulls year after year. We doubt. We plot. And hope. And like anyone anywhere, we try to overcome the nights of glaring into the dark corners of our room. To find rest. And often, thankfully, we do just that.

I am one who sleeps easy, especially when I go to bed so late. But tonight, before I close my eyes, I stare at my windows, and I wonder at how they are glowing.

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