When Northern Winters Give Way
In the North, where I now live and have lived my entire adult life, the winters are long and bleak. I know from family legends that these are the same winters that pushed my family down south when my mother was still a little girl. She tells me that before they moved to California, she and my grandmother would wear headlamps in the evening, the dangling bulbs cast towards their faces like an anglerfish’s lure, to stave off the lonely darkness that made them shrivel back into their roots each year.
Here, winter is a long ashen cycle of nights and late evenings, never mornings or mid-afternoons. The sun limps halfway to the sky and doesn’t even pause before it falls back behind the horizon like a gunned-down bird. Even then, for the few and sweet moments that it remains, the great grey sky snatches its shine and holds it high above the citizens like a greedy tyrant.
Drafty windows and blotted light cause my houseplants to stretch for the walls, desperately clawing for slivers of sunshine, slowly drying from the heat of my furnace. I water them and watch them turn yellow, then brown, then black. I water them and I watch them die.
Because winter is a cataclysm for creatures like us. We, the green and leafy masses, unfit for city life, need warmth. We can’t create sweetness alone and in the dark, it has to be drawn out of us with rich soil, sweet breezes, and rays of light. We become root bound here, in this grey wash of concrete and asphalt, long nights full of rain overrunning the edges of our terracotta shells. We drown and starve simultaneously, overwhelmed by the fierce and mundane majesty of season’s change.
My husband is more like a mushroom, though. He can grow anywhere, in darkness, in shit, amongst spoiled food, must, and dampness. He’s worked nights for as long as we’ve lived here, and in the winter season, has gone months without seeing the sun. How I wish to be like him some days, underground and voracious, stretching for unseen miles. He is concentrated tenacity, an unassuming fruit born from a network of mycelium that may very well span the entire forest floor. The largest organism in the world is a fungus here in Northern Oregon, spanning four square miles in total. They believe it’s thousands of years old, unbothered by darkness and stronger than you would ever expect.
But I am photosynthetic.
See, fungi eat the world around them, excreting enzymes that dissolve the molecules of other organics, consuming in a way that we Green Ones can’t. I worry some days that I may be an orchid, a lovely gift and a novelty, but nearly always doomed by my own fragility. I worry some days that the cold will leave me as it leaves the houseplants. I worry as I wilt and lean deeper to the frozen soil, shivering stillness caught in my branches, that come spring I may never thaw.
This is my sixth winter, though—longer than my headlamp-wearing ancestors lasted among the fog, and ferns, and floods of the Pacific Northwest. Today, I write in green to remind me of spring, and water my plants even though they’re brown because I’ve seen the way that even dead plants rise again. Each time my garden death rattles, a necrobotanical ritual of cosmic and mysterious origin always seems to bring them back, green and vibrant again, when Northern winters give way. But I have to keep watering.
I have to keep watering.
I have to keep watering.
So, I put on my headlamp, I water my withered houseplants and lean towards the rushing spring. And from the darkness of our frozen soil, the wisdom of the Green says that we will rise again, and again, and again.
Fragile but tenacious, we will rise again.
Randilee Sequeira Larson is a Portland-based writer whose work has appeared in journals such as The Promethean, The Santa Ana River Review, and The Ilanot Review. In her spare time, Randilee enjoys playing with her cat, “Cocaine Greg,” and tending to her colony of flesh-eating beetles. Randilee plans on becoming an urban legend one day and hopes to retire to a comfortable life of drinking mojitos and scaring the neighborhood children. She recommends the Friends of Trees.