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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Our Sunny Kansas Midwinter

I rode my bike into campus today, to try to get some last-minute work done before Christmas. It was a beautiful morning--a little cold (probably in the mid-40s), but the sky was blue and the drifting clouds let the sunshine through. I didn't have to race into campus, so I took my time to enjoy the ride. While much of Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, and even some of western Kansas has been buried in snow over the past 24 hours, here in Wichita we got some rain, and then everything turned dry and bright. So much for midwinter, the darkest day of the year!

Last year, I wrote about how much I had missed snow in previous Decembers, how I found it a wonderful and needed surprise, an important part of how I and so many others imagined the holiday season. I stand by what I send then. It is, I think, reasonable to believe that one of the reasons Christmas and wintertime have worked so well together, have dug so deeply into the consciousness of so many millions of people, is that the Christmas story--with its juxtaposition of the humble and the grand, of a mundane moment in a stable that nonetheless was, as C.S. Lewis had Lucy say in The Last Battle, bigger on the inside than out--resonates well with the "bleak" lessons of midwinter: the gathering together in places of shelter, and the discovery in that gathering, with the outside world seemingly sealed off by the silence of snow, of joys and good times whose expansiveness is inversely related to the closeness within. And so, today, as I rode my bike down Wichita's streets, I found myself wishing we had snow. But only a little bit.

Theological speculation and metaphors can only take you so far; if you, like me, have to depend on a bike for getting to work, then deep snow drifts is the last thing you want. Melissa, for her part, is delighted to be living once more in a relatively southern part of the country, especially here, with it's cold temperatures and occasional blizzards during the winter months (a rarity in the Southern states we used to call home), but sunny skies and snow-free streets most of the rest of the time nonetheless. This is something we didn't expect about south-central Kansas when we moved here (thought we should have: in one of our favorite Christmas stories, Santa Comes to Little House, an illustrated version of the beloved chapter from Little House on the Prairie when Mr. Edwards traverses many miles and swollen streams to bring Mary and Laura presents from far-away Independence, KS, Mr. Edwards explains to the girls that the Santa he met in Independence, from whom he obtained their presents, didn't have his sleigh, because there was no snow: "Santa always rides a pack-mule in the southwest"). We assumed that the characteristic winter storms of the Great Plains made it this far south, only turning into rain around Oklahoma and Texas. Apparently not. Chalk that up to global warming, if you will. Still, as long as we get our four seasons, and maybe at least a smattering of snow for the girls, I think we--and our Christmases--will survive just fine.

Oddly enough, just a week or two after I wrote that post last year, I found myself in Riverside, CA, interviewing for a job. (How long ago that seems now!) I was nervous, and one morning I woke up quite early, long before I was to be picked up for breakfast, and I went exploring. I was staying in a grand old hotel in downtown Riverside, the Mission Inn, and the surrounding streets were decked out in Christmas wreaths and holly and lights, including the orange trees. As I wandered the streets in the early dawn light, listening to recordings of Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles coming from speakers attached to the streetlights, I had to admit to myself that the sunny California thing--the decorations, the light displays sharing space with fresh fruit, the poinsettas and luminarias everywhere, the sweater-worthy morning chill--worked every bit as well as my Illinois snow-bound speculations about wintertime had. I'm glad for that experience--even if it didn't change my deepest preferences, it gave me a hint of what it would mean to enjoy, as I am today, a midwinter's day with the sun shining through my office window. I'll be wrapped up here in a few hours...and wonderfully, the holiday is coming on just the same.

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