Longing for Warmth

Yesterday was the first morning this year that we’ve had a southern wind. Soft. Not the cutting cold that blows in from the North Sea. It was such a grey, dull morning that I would have missed it had E. not pointed it out.

My body opens in the warmth. My spine centers itself. Or probably more accurately, my chest – my heart – stops retreating from the world. Huddling.

When I first moved to Norway I thought it odd that so many people considered it a human right to vacation in the south of Europe each year. I thought it was Marie Antoinette-like, that there were articles in the paper about how children whose families couldn’t afford it were impoverished. I still think that, but I do understand now that beyond the privilege is a physical longing for warmth that overrides the intellect. The body thinks, “Me, me, me.” It thinks survival. The cold is a predator. A trial by ice.

There’s a legend that Norwegians would leave a newborn in the snow overnight. If it lived they would take it home again.

There are winter Norwegians and summer Norwegians. The huddling, cold, keep-to-yourself, hide-in-your-den Norwegians, and the “Come join us for a beer” Norwegians. And usually, the winter has condensed them so much it can take a beer to pry them open. Or a hike in the wilderness – in a southern wind.

By February every year I am so contracted I am almost stone. I become obsessed with thoughts of the Mediterranean. I dream of safaris in the Serengeti and treks through humid rain forests in Peru.

Where I live is not that cold, really. But for someone from southern California, from Nevada, and Texas? It is cold enough to feel like death. No. It’s more than that. It’s a matter of association.

When I moved from the States to Norway, I landed among war monuments, war ruins like old Nazi bunkers, trenches, and cannon fortifications. History lives here in the landscape not just in my grandfather’s memory or in books. Death lives here. When I arrived I got pregnant – a risky, precarious pregnancy. I spent 5 months in the hospital. Alone.

Death hovers here. The shift in geography coincided with a shift in my comprehension. Mortality. Legacy. Grandfather died while I was here, so far away. Among his memories.

The world was always a threatening place, but more fairy tale than newspaper articles. Consequences were romanticized – a child anticipating an earthquake, or a hurricane, with the distance of innocence.

Now I long for the warmer climates with the same distance of innocence. I know that. Death is everywhere that there is life. So I settle for the mild warmth of the southern wind.

geese arrive as long-
necked, v-shaped patterns over-
head, black against sky

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  1. As I get older, I think of a Greek island as the place from which to say good-bye.

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