This Year’s Darkness

It always happens on Thanksgiving week: the rain, the cold, and the darkness all descend at once. One week, it is autumn: I think about winter as a future entity, a thing that will happen to me someday. The next week winter has descended, like a gavel to a bench.

As I drive home from work, the twilight bends towards night, and the gray of the fog, the drizzle, the sheen of the road, the glass-smooth water on the inlet, blend into one dark blanket. I navigate my way home by following the taillights in front of me. It is dark now, I tell myself. I feel like I’m breathing deep, sending oxygen to my toes, preparing for the plunge into winter, for the ten long weeks of darkness before February brings a promising light, a long burning glow beneath the cloud cover.

This year the darkness is darker. I don’t need to tell you why.

(Yesterday on the drive home his voice came on my radio. He was shouting to a crowd in Ohio, boasting about how big he had won. “I can’t stand it,” I said, leaning my head towards the backseat. I didn’t want Smoke, my eight-year-old, to be taken in by his bravado. “Who?” Stump, my three-year-old, asked me. “I don’t even like to say his name,” I said. “Me neither,” Smoke solemnly agreed. “Voldemort,” I said. Stump accepted that answer. It was dark, of course, when this happened.)

I have a new favorite book: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by the great William Steig. It’s for children, but it’s also for me. In it, Sylvester, a donkey, finds a magic red pebble and accidentally changes himself into a rock. He is immobile and, because he can’t touch the rock, he can’t un-wish his wish. It seems to be an impossible predicament. How will he ever return to himself?

Sylvester’s parents are stricken. They cannot find him nor can they find any clues about his disappearance. Many pages of the book serve only to mark the passage of time, in which all parties struggle to come to terms with their new situation. Sylvester descends into a long, deep sleep. Seasons pass. And here is my favorite page:

One day a wolf sat on the rock that was Sylvester and howled and howled because he was hungry.

This page is my favorite because nothing further happens with this wolf. He is not instrumental to the plot. This is his only page. He shows up, he howls in hunger, he leaves. He animates the story’s grief. The pads of his paws, through a layer of snow, touch the rock that is Sylvester. He will survive this season, but the season will require him to suffer.


  1. I love this! I seem to be drawn to posts that expose books or words describing dark or deep undertones of feeling. I shall be looking at your updates closely…they invoke the writer in me! Thanks

    oh and reposting!

  2. Beautifully written! I loved the way you stated darkness. I’d say your writing can hold the reader’s attention for a long time as I couldn’t take my eye off until this post ended.
    I’d be honoured to have your visit at my blog site as I am new in blotting. I have a love for writing about life because I think it’s beautiful.

  3. I can’t hit like, but I love this like I love scarred and beautiful things. I literally just had a full blown hissy fit over not being able to take one damn holiday card photo. I found myself crying and yelling,”No one ever hears me! My voice means nothing!!!” Literally crying. (That is so not my usual MO, by the way.) Hard not to laugh now, but there’s now an incessant knowledge that my voice means less than I thought. And I’m cis, white, straight, able bodied… What must anyone who is more of an outlier feel? Crushing.

    • LOL at your hissy fit. I know exactly how that feels. Sometimes I shake my fist at Stump when he ignores me saying “Can you please ACKNOWLEDGE ME?” The double resonance is not lost on me in those moments. 😉

  4. I thought it was only me. The overwhelming sadness. I anger I feel when I hear his voice. I can’t describe it. I’m glad you get it. It is almost as though a part of me has died and is gone forever. As the mother of three daughters, one who is gay, I am sad beyond words for our country.

  5. It may take our collective grief to send out a howl that we can hear as a country. You offered a class to “set your intentions for winter” several years ago. I signed up and enjoyed the sense of connection and community in our small group. Maybe it’s time for another winter writing group …

  6. This is so beautifully poetic and moving. Thanks, Jenn. I will share, and hope the members of our Worship Committee get to read it.

  7. The rest of the world feels it too. The sound of his voice, the words that come out of the unfortunate droop and the arrogance as he blunders on from a trail of diplomatic mishaps with the social skills of the school bully. You are not alone we share your pain!

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