Brian Arsenault Takes On: Winter, but not as well as Chickadees

By Brian Arsenault

(This post was written during northern New England’s first true snowstorm of the season on Sunday.)

As the first storm of the winter season hits northern New England, the snow flies and the wind goes from mournful howling to screaming angry. I look out my window and wonder, not for the first time, how the chickadees survive the winter. I wonder so much I put on my slick and trek out to refill the feeder.

I mean the bluejays I understand. They’re big and aggressive and if there’s any food to be had you know they’ll caw and claw their way to get it. But the chickadees or so small. You could nest one in your hand. Still they endure and you can hear their distinctive call all winter. Strength comes in many forms.

It’s that distinctive “dee dee dee” call of a single repeated note that got me to thinking about how the comparatively small population in the huge spaces of Canada has produced so much North American music. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, most of The Band, Leonard Cohen, Rush, Cowboy Junkies, K.D. Lang and many others all hail from across the USA’s northern border.

I think winter has something to do with it.

The short list of artists above holds many differences, but I think there is a common thread or two. Poetry is one; vivid imagery, lyrical phrasing, contemplative nuances. There is time in a long winter to read, reflect, review the nature of things. Time to find the right rhyme or go mad. Or both. Such attributes are not exclusive to cold climes but they are central.

Then there’s a sadness, a darkness. The days may be long in summer but they are short, so short, sometimes not at all in winter. Look again at my short list. Can you not find melancholy, regret, yearning, sometimes despair in all. Again, not exclusive to the north country but always present there.

Thoughtfulness is also a common trait. None of the above are content with pop notions or silly love songs. Love is as dangerous as it is desired. Rejection is as possible as acceptance. The music industry is as much a deceiver as a deliverer. Stardom is sharp at both ends. The strength to carry on is there too. To continue putting one foot in front of the other though the snow is deep and the wind is cold.

The Iditarod is more of a Canadian “sport” than American, but then Alaska belongs to that world. Hockey players are the toughest athletes known to exist and when they fall, they fall onto ice. He’s an American, but the stories of Jack London will serve as a guide to the vast north above us.

The snow is starting to gather now, a thin sheen on the grass. It will probably melt away this time but maybe not the next or the time after that. Winter comes and it will not be denied. Not here in Maine and not in Canada.

I think I’ll go put on some Joni Mitchell and warm the house with the sunshine of that voice.

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