When I was a boy in Pennsylvania, we had some cold and snowy winters, and back then, that meant sledding. One of the town’s workmen, who lived at the end of a steep road with a 90 degree turn at the base, would put up sawhorses in the way of cars at the top and at the bottom, so that the kids could sled without any worries about traffic. If you didn’t negotiate that turn, you’d go flying into a curb and a fence, but that was your lookout, not his. And that is where we’d be, long after the sun had set, shouting and laughing.
Before there were automobiles, though, boys used to toboggan down a half-mile long hill into the center of town, its course delightfully interrupted by two train-beds, which would act as ramps and send the tobogganers flying in the air. Jacob Riis, the social reformer, once wrote about how New York City came alive after a snowstorm, and the youth of America would spend the whole night long sledding, skating, building snow forts for snowball wars, and sailing along icy “slides” a half a city block long. And isn’t it still a fine thing when the snow keeps all the cars away, and you can walk criss-cross along the streets, as if you were a merry creature and the town had gone back to being half wild?
Something of that odd winter cheer comes through for us in our poem this week, Robert Frost’s “A Winter Eden.” Frost had a sharp eye for creatures, human and animal, and in this poem he’s got a bit of a soft heart for them too. The title is something of a jest, right off. A Winter Eden? Isn’t Eden, by definition, the place of eternal spring and eternal harvest? But straightaway we see we are not in a place where an Adam and Eve would like to lounge, even with britches on. It’s an alder swamp. For those of you who live in the south or in Europe, the alders Frost is talking about are graceless shrubs, mainly proliferating in boggy areas where no tall trees will grow. But the animals all come out for the unusually sunny day, though it’s not warm enough to melt the snow or get any tree to wake up prematurely.
Read the rest at Anthony Esolen’s Substack, Word & Song. And please subscribe.