Winter and Philosophy

Winter is a time for contemplation, a time for philosophy. Summer moves too quickly, spring is too full of life, and fall is reserved for nostalgia. Yet winter, winter allows one to look inward, it allows one to leave the city and return to a primitive nature, not one of savagery but of Eden, the place beyond the city, the place we all seek to return, that none but the saints have found. The great 20th-century existentialist Albert Camus, once wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” I propose that this summer is in all of us. I propose it is eternal, and only through the harsh winter, and her companion philosophy, can we find it. Allow me to show the relationship between winter and philosophy, both the literal and metaphoric, and then show how the two will lead us to summer.

Boethius writes that Lady Philosophy’s clothes were made of “the finest thread, skillfully woven and imperishable.” I though disagree. Lady Philosophy wears the furs of wild beasts, harshly but tightly bundled together to protect her from the cold without. Her face is not fair and soft, but harsh and rough. Lady Philosophy does not dwell in the warmth of southern places, but in the darkest tundra where only the bravest men will dare seek her. Philosophy is not for the children of summer, but only the men of winter.

In the depth of winter, the desire for material luxuries is stripped away, leaving only the bare necessities such as a desire for warmth, for simple companionship, for a hearty meal and the summer sun. But is this not exactly where philosophy begins? In late night conversations by a fire with drink in hand and simple food in front of us. John Senior knew this when he told us to smash the television set, and if he were here today he would tell us to smash the rest of the coffins we have made for ourselves and return to the fire in the family room, return to winter, and by doing so, return to philosophy.

Now let me direct your attention away from the literal to a more metaphoric reading of winter, specifically the harshness of winter. Philosophy cannot survive among the soft handed, those the world has left untouched. She can only survive among those who have seen both the wonder and the woes of the world. Winter is beautiful, but also cruel; magnificent, but also malicious. Winter, like the world, tends to make men hard. It is painful but necessary in the formation of a man.

I by no means deny that philosophy is born in the soft places, for all children are philosophers. But when we become men and put childlike things behind us, we tend also to leave behind philosophy unless we go through a winter of the soul. As we leave childhood we must enter the tundra in search of our dear old friend Lady Philosophy. And if one truly wants to seek her, this lonely and dark path is the one he must take.

I now think back to the classic stories of Narnia by C.S Lewis, when Lucy heard a whisper from above, “Courage, dear heart.” I wish to whisper the same to you now, for remember the wise words we started with, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” For we carry summer in us throughout the winter, as the traveler carries thoughts of home, in hopes of seeing it once more.

The telos of winter is not winter, nor is the telos of philosophy, philosophy. We go through winter to lead us back to summer, and we go to philosophy to lead us back to a home we have forgotten, a home of eternal summer. So as winter fades, let us leave it with joy as we once again approach the summer sun, but also let us not forget our time with winter and his faithful companion, Lady Philosophy.


A House On Lombard Street.

I believe our lives are built on the cornerstone of family. It is how it should be, our families are the first ones to love us, they are our first friends, they are our forever friends. Out of all the gifts which God has blessed me with, the one which I hold closest to my heart is having a large and close extended family. Lately, I have been hit with the arrow of nostalgia, which has called back the thoughts of where the foundation of this family grew from.

It is simple to say that though this story does not start on Lombard Street, my introduction to it does. It was the classic street of a small American town, just a small side street, in a small town, not even a pinpoint on a map. There was nothing special about it, you could see it end to end wherever you stood. A cracked sidewalk kissed its edge on one side, houses built in another age laid side by side next to each other on both sides of the road. It was truly ordinary in every sense of the word.

One house on this simple street was different, not to the world, but at least to me. It was an old house, the kind where the floor creaked slightly when you stepped on it, just enough to alert my Grandmother when my cousins and I were up to mischief, and she always knew. Then again, perhaps it was not the floor, but rather the simple fact we were always up to mischief.

Perhaps if the old wallpapered walls could talk they would confirm this, but they would understand because these were the same walls that watched our parents grow too. And if the stories are in fact true, there has never been a lack of mischief in the House on Lombard Street. Though the walls would not groan just of troublemaking, but also of unconditional love that was just as common. They would speak of how the same cousins which were just a moment ago waging a war against each other in the kitchen are now playing in the back yard like the best friends they were.

The House on Lombard Street did have a back yard, fenced in with a brown picket fence, it was not large, but for us it contained the whole world. Somedays the yard was a distant battlefield and we were brave soldiers fighting for glory, filled with thumos. Other days it is was  just a simple house where we could mimic the glorious mundane that our parents faced every day. Regardless of whatever form the yard took on that day, it was our beautifully crafted world that held infinity.

And the days when rain visited our yard we would flee upstairs to continue our games, with the energy that only children could have. It turned out that this old house could hold just as much adventure as the square backyard. Our energy did occasionally run out (the moment my grandparents probably prayed for) and we would then find ourselves in front of a Carebear movie, the same one we have seen so many times that we could recite it, yet still it held magic for us, no matter how many times we would rewind the tape.

The house held all sort of mysteries for us. Like the ghost stories, my older cousins would tell us of the house, of unexplainable noises and slamming doors, just enough to make us want to keep one eye open as we drifted off to sleep for our afternoon naps. Though still we would fall to sleep anyways, to dream of the adventures yet to come when we awoke. Though we could never sleep too long, because soon our parents would bring us home for the night and we had so much left to do before we had to say our temporary goodbyes.

We spent our boundless summers here, our school vacations, our earlier childhood. The house taught us how to grow, how to love, how to be compassionate and forgiven. Though, like all things our time at Lombard street came to an end. God called my grandfather, my grandmother found a new house, and we followed her there to make it home. There was still work to be done, memories to be made, games to be played, so we left behind Lombard Street. Like times before, someone else came to make a home there, to make their own memories. Though sometimes I still find myself passing the house on Lombard street and I swear if you listen close enough you can still hear the echoes of our make believe.

There is No Place Like Home

To me coming home has always felt like looking at an old photograph. Seeing the sign that reads “Welcome to Colebrook” as I roll back into my hometown always fills me with the same sense of nostalgia that a book of childhood photos does. There is a sense of stillness here which is both comforting and disturbing. It is funny how coming home has a habit of bringing up thoughts and feelings like this.

There is something strangely alluring about the cliché “small town USA” which makes it feel frozen to the passing of time, yet if you leave it for a while and then return, it feels somewhat different, though nothing has seemingly changed. This is the paradox I find myself stuck in, the feeling of change in a place which never changes. Though perhaps I should go back and tell you first about this town of which I speak.

Like most children who grow up in a small town, I spent my whole childhood running towards the future as if it was an express ticket out of here. I spent countless hours of my youth dreaming of a world outside of the small bubble in which I lived. I dreamt of the liveliness of the cities which was lacking in our small community. I grew to believe that most who grew up here shared my longing; even those most content with staying cannot help but envy the ability to be able to order Chinese at two in the morning on a Sunday or only have to take a five-minute car ride down the road to the Super-Walmart. Yet having finally left and found myself in the city, with all its luxuries, I have noticed there always seems to be something missing after having grown up in a small town.

My town has just shy of two thousand people in it, positioned snuggly in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire with the Connecticut river running swiftly against its back and miles of uninhabited woods and farmland hugging it on its remaining sides. It is the type of place where folks still go to church on Sunday—seven different churches to be precise—and the type where people still take the time to learn your name.

They call this town Colebrook. It has one of those main streets where if you blink you might miss it, but if you keep a keen eye out you can’t help but call it cute. There are two banks, on one each end and a dozen little shops between them. Dr. Katz’s office is there too. He has been cleaning teeth for as long as anyone can remember and never fails to ask about your family when you drop by for a cleaning.

It is also the type of place where people still make small talk when they see you out on the street, or in the grocery store. People also don’t look down much, but instead are always looking up, always smiling at strangers. There is a strong sense of community which is lacking in most of the world. Neighbors still look out for neighbors here; we are still our brother’s keeper. And if you are patient enough, you can find out that almost everyone is your cousin somehow.

Colebrook truly is like an old photograph which is tucked away in a drawer and when it is pulled out again memories come rushing back. When I pull back into town I can’t help but think of the annual Moose Festival, when Main Street is shut down one night a year for a street fair, or sitting on the bridge in the center town watching the Fourth of July parade. And as we pass by the one shop that sells soft serve ice cream I am reminded of walking with my cousins in the summer heat to that very same shop to get a cool treat. Each shop, each inch of sidewalk holds a different memory.

Recently while making the trek back home there was a group of kids walking on the very same sidewalks I used to walk on when I was their age with my friends. I saw them laughing and joking, and I could not help but wonder if they were dreaming of the very same things I was dreaming of when I was in their shoes—of big cities and adventures that waited for them as soon as they got of out of here. And then I found myself smiling too, thinking of my youthful naivety. For the reality is once you leave Colebrook you often find yourself wishing you were right back here in this small town where you spent so many hours wishing you were somewhere else and my theory is such is the case in all small towns.

Yet here comes into play once more the paradox I mentioned at the beginning: Colebrook is a place which never changes yet every time I return it feels changed. I realized there is but one reason for this, and that is that I am the one who has changed. It was not in the leaving I realized the beauty of this town, but in the coming back. Colebrook didn’t change on me, but I changed on it and it was because of that I was able to see the true beauty of this town, of this community, which I failed to see as a child.

The Hill Where The Potatoes Grew

I sat in the third row of a foreign pew staring forward at the big screen in the front of the church that was playing my potato digging video that I recorded and edited from the previous summer. The footage was shaky and in places, blurry. The jump cuts were hard and unnatural, with a stray misspelled word here or there, some places even a lag. In all honesty, my video editing skills are not up to par, but the video did capture an unforgettable moment and that in itself was worth everything.

It was the summer of 2014 and I just turned 18. My family calls one of our back fields, “The Joe Place” and I don’t really know why, but it has always been called that. In the Joe Place sits one of the largest, and steepest hills on the farm. On a clear day, one can faintly see the old fire tower on top of  Monadnock Mountain in the distance to the west. The new tower that sits on top of Mudget Mountain can be seen directly to the east. The hill also looks over to North Hill and has a great view of the surrounding valleys that dip in and out of the horizon.

For the past couple of years, my family has planted a large potato garden on the hill in the Joe Place, we call it the potato patch. That summer it was the biggest it has ever been and it wasn’t only potatoes this year, but the name did stick. In long, straight rows the potatoes grew, on the other side of the patch, a large cluster of beans flourished in one corner and a block of corn in another. Beets grew next to the long fingers of the summer squash and pumpkin plants that reached out like they were trying to touch each corner of the garden. In the center, a row of sunflowers grew, adding some color and diversity to our hill.

In years before the summer of 2014, when Fall knocked at our doors and the first frost kissed the ground, my entire family would head up to The Joe Place after Sunday breakfast. We would load the trucks up with all the tools required to dig the potatoes and big crates to hold our harvest. My Grandfather and Grandmother would lead our convoy up the dirt road with my Uncle following close behind with the tractor. My other Uncle and Aunt followed in their truck and my own family in ours.

When we arrived at the top of our hill we would bail out of our trucks, grab our tools, and get to work. It was hard work, it was honest work, the kind that is good for the soul. By the time we finished our harvest we would all have dirty hands and sweaty faces, but most of all, huge smiles as we looked at all the potatoes we gathered.

Though this year was different. My Grandfather had his heart set on buying an antique potato digger. With the help of Craigslist, he found a digger in Massachusetts, five hours away. Despite the distance, he made up his mind that he had to have it and when my grandfather decided to do something; it would be done.

By this point, he was no longer driving so my Uncle volunteered to make the trip south with him. At the crack of dawn, the best hour, according to my Grandfather, they hooked on the trailer and headed south. Ten hours later they returned with a hundred-year-old potato digger that wouldn’t even turn. It was going to require some old fashioned tinkering before it was ready to hit the potato patch.

This was one of the last projects my Grandfather ever oversaw. As my Uncles worked away, replacing parts here or applying oil over there my Grandfather would sit in a plastic lawn chair in the garage sharing his wisdom whenever needed. After many hours of hard work, the gears of the archaic machine were finally turning. Even though the kiss of the first frost had yet hit our hill, we still headed to the patch. If that summer taught us anything, it was we had no time to waste.

The digger was hooked to the tractor with precision and slowly we moved up the hill where the potatoes grew, praying the digger would work. They don’t make things like our digger anymore, despite its frail looking mechanics it stayed steady all the way to the patch. As soon as we arrived we started to pull tops to make way for the tractor and digger to get to work. My Grandfather sat in the truck watching with content, waiting for the moment of truth.

Slowly the tractor eased into the garden with the digger following. One of my Uncles drove the tractor, while the other made slight adjustments to the digger as it rolled and I took a video. The video captured the first attempt of the metal teeth dragging into the soil. The second go around saw more adjustments and yet still no potatoes. With the third attempt, the potatoes finally boiled to the top like we’d struck oil.

So I continued to record the scene with shaky hands as it played out. I recorded my Uncles as they worked, my family as they gathered up the potatoes, my Grandmother as she too recorded, and my Grandfather, as he looked on with a gleeful smile. Above all, I recorded a moment that was more than just potatoes and old diggers. It was a moment of family and our limited forevers.

Four months later when snow covered our hill and the potatoes stopped growing I found myself exchanging my jeans stained with dirt from our patch, for a suit. I sat in a foreign pew watching a video made with shaky hands slowly fading away and then said a final goodbye.