"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1
Having been greeted upon my arrival to New Skete in October by unusually spectacular Fall foliage, I was blissfully unaware of what was soon to brutally descend upon the Upstate New York region - the Endless Winter. Although I was born in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, I had lived in the South (South Carolina) long enough that any memory of serious cold and snow was but a blur. Intellectually, I understood what cold weather was, but my body had no memory of it, that is certain. I had an unsettling suspicion that Winter in Cambridge might get the best of me, but the hustle and bustle of the busy autumn season distracted me from that thought.
December came quickly, and the beauty of a white Christmas, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, created instant nostalgia. The holiday lights on both monasteries were charming and inviting, and the snow was light and fluffy and delightful. It wasn't even very cold at all - in fact, I questioned why I had been so terrified of Winter. Winter was fabulous! I was silly to have dreaded it.
After Christmas, while we were cleaning up from a lovely dinner, the news was broken to me by a couple of the nuns and I was stunned. I normally am clumsy, and nearly dropped the platter I was drying. "Oh, everything is OK now, but just wait until Theophany. Then things get iffy." Smiling unaware, I asked for clarification. "We might not be able to make it up the monks' hill for services. It can get really icy at that time." I nervously wondered aloud why that would be so, my fingers in a death grip on the platter. "We get into that time of year when we can have weeks of temperatures in the negative 20s," one of the sisters casually noted. What?! I asked why this had not been disclosed on the application for candidates, and began to wonder if God was playing some sort of joke on me. God has been known to have a very funny sense of humor.
Then I remembered the haunting feeling that plagued me in the Fall. And boy did it come, the cold weather. The dreary grey days. The heavy, wet, oppressive snow. Brother Isaac jokingly offered one morning to go down to Havana, Cuba, and open a "New Skete - South" campus. I wanted to be first in line to go with him! Had I known at the time that the winter would continue on like that for three more months, I might have even gone to Siberia, where it had to be warmer. Had to be.
Was it all that bad? Yes, and no. Actually, I learned and did some pretty amazing things during the Endless Winter of 2014-2015. I learned what frost heaves are, and that they can assist in the formation of beautiful ice crystal sculptures. I learned that when the snow has accumulated past one's knee, it is advisable to wear snow shoes outside to prevent pulling a hamstring. I learned that there are things called Yaktrax that attach to the bottom of shoes and keep one from falling down when walking on ice. I learned that sometimes (oftentimes) it is necessary to shovel your roof. I learned about snow tires.
I learned how to cut your own Christmas tree, and that it helps to bring a saw, but that others might miraculously assist you, out of pity, in cutting it down with a chainsaw. If said tree is quite too large when you get it back to the monastery, I learned that you can rig it up to a special hook on the wall with string so that it doesn't fall over. Others had learned this before I did, and the hardware is in place.
I learned to play cards - specifically the game Canasta, and another wonderful game called Bananagrams. The company of sisters and brothers is what makes the games fun, and something to always look forward to during the week.
I learned to make pie crust and Hungarian coffee cake. The latter resulted in epic failures, but also proved the love and compassion of the brothers and sisters, who choked it down and told me it was "good."
I discovered the joy of a 3 AM walk in the snow under the moonlight, when everything is still and surreal. I experienced the serenity of winter hikes up local mountain trails with the monks and their dogs, enjoying new scenery and getting to know my brothers.
When making a snowman for the amusement of a German Shepherd, I learned that a snowman in the eyes of a dog is just three big toy balls that, of course, are the property of the dog and great for eating.
I enjoyed experiencing surprise February tulip blooms. Grown indoors, of course.
There were activities outside of the monastery such as the Battenkill Chorale's production of Haydn's Creation, with Brother Marc in the chorus, and serving at interfaith community luncheons and feeding the poor. These have left lasting impressions, too. Looking back, it has been a pretty great Winter.
As I wrote this on March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, there was still snow on the ground in the morning, but there were patches where it had melted and the grass was peeping through. I was feeling hopeful. Then we went to Divine Liturgy at 5 PM, and during the middle of the service, I saw something moving around outside the windows. Snow. More snow. A lot of snow. But one other thing I learned in my 6 months here at New Skete. God is merciful. And he has a plan. I am sure that his plan includes some Spring-like weather in the future. But like all of God's plans, I find myself impatient and wanting it on my time. But Summer will be here before we know it, and guess what? I have put some snowballs in the freezer in the bakery. As fun as the indoor February tulips were, just wait until Jessie the dog sees... a snowman in July!
God's not the only one with a sense of humor.