When Winter Comes

by Janet Murie

It will snow.
It will snow, and when it does you will step out into the night to listen to the silence all around you. You were told about misty figures who appear in the woods at night, and you will hear them whispering and you won’t be afraid. When you hear the soft clump of snow falling from a branch you will go inside and climb back into bed.
The next day you will pull your purple boots on. They are knee high but not high enough to keep your legs dry. You will head down the hill, a little cautiously at first but the new snow is dry and you won’t slide.
There will be no marks in the snow except for a set of rabbit tracks. The silence is so deep you can hear it. The air is cold – you can feel it when you breathe it in, but you feel warm.
You will keep going, towards the river. It’s a hard walk in the deep snow, but you look up at the trees – old rainforest, they meet overhead and the branches are heavy with snow. You will blow out your breath and pretend you are smoking, like you did when you were a girl, and watch your breath drift away.
In fifteen minutes you will reach the river. It’s running along like nothing has changed, and the snow gives way to a fine, wet gravel at the edge of the water. You will look up and see a hazy sun dog and hope it will bring good luck.
Two men are fishing and nod when they see you. This will surprise you – it feels so still you can’t imagine any other person being in this world. You will pass them and settle on a large stump by the river. You will take a big breath and feel full.
You will take your coat off first. Then you’ll slip off your boots and stand on your coat so you’re not standing on the snow. Then your socks, then your jeans, and finally your sweater and underwear. You’ll step towards the water, put one foot in tentatively and think “oh, no, this is not a good idea.” But then your other foot, and suddenly you are up to your knees where you stop for a minute, looking up at the sky.
When you’re waist deep it is so cold you can hardly breathe and then you’ll bend your knees until your shoulders are covered with the grey water. You hyperventilate until your body adjusts and you’ll stay in as long as you can. Just a few minutes. You’ll swear you can see molecules popping in the air around you.
And then you’ll walk out, standing on your coat to pull on your boots. You are too wet to get your jeans on but your coat covers you almost to your knees so that will do.
When you head back, the men fishing will nod again, not giving any indication that they notice you carrying in your clothes. As you walk up the path to your small house you will be the only one who knows that everything has changed.

Janet Murie is a writer living on Vancouver Island in the unceded territory of the Cowichan and Coast Salish People. She loves to swim in the winter.


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