No one I know would ever think about stirring their bubbling love potion with an icicle.
With Valentine’s Day still a few hops down the bunny trail, there’s still time, guys, to start thinking of some smoldering lines to woo our lady loves. In these cold days and short nights of late January when the temperatures don’t get far into the twenties, there’s a disconnect between the fireball demons of love, the sizzle of romance, the burning ache of separation, the molten longing for togetherness and the bleak cold of winter. There’s nothing that puts the kibosh on romance than the blowing frigid air and snow outside that numbs our fingers and frosts our faces.
Even the dogs agree about what they like, given the choice. As Jack London observed through the dog’s eyes from the other side of the campfire in “To Build A Fire,”
“…But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold. It was the time to lie snug in a hole in the snow and wait for a curtain of clue to be drawn across the face of outer space whence this cold came.”
Outside howls the cold, but inside is the welcoming fire and the comfort of hot soup, freshly baked bread, and the heat of the stove when the logs have burned down and are giving off that deep orange glow that is hypnotic.
The dogs and cats are lying as close to the warmth of the hearth as they can get. And you’re layered up and have a brisk alertness that can sometimes go missing in July.
And there also lies the promise of romance.
It’s on such days that my wife Jody and I are up early, before daylight, to do our chores, feed the animals, and wish for warmer weather, especially when we have to crank open the windows to fill the bird feeders. My great fear is that some little Chickadee will fly in at that inopportune moment. Sophie, our puddle of an overweight calico, is always staring close by, hoping for what I dread. So far, so good.
But the warmth I value and crave most comes from our companionship and just not at night in bed when we sometimes have to throw the covers off to let the steam out!
It’s in those moments of winter when one can feel most alone and isolated, when one senses that we have to keep moving or perhaps be stilled in our tracks by the bitterness of the cold, just like London’s “man.”
This is the time that I am reminded of how the winter can steal more than just warmth. It can even rob us of our memories of warmer thoughts.
With this in mind as I read about an actress I had had a deep crush on long ago in my impressionable youth, I was told she had been especially aloof and difficult with a reporter who was trying to interview her. The first line of his subsequent article read, “She was as warm as a breeze in February.”
In feeling the chill of this wind, I thought of the harrowing ordeals endured by the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and his crew in trying to cross the continent from sea to sea via the South Pole in the early years of the twentieth century. The cold came to life in almost the same way that London describes. And both stories have dogs. Shackleton and his men ate their faithful sled dogs, while the dog in London’s stayed out of reach of the man who wanted to slit his tummy and warm his hands inside the unfortunate pooch’s gut. Like the Chickadee, the dog didn’t let himself be caught in the harm’s way of another kind of cold.
So on these frigid days, I am given to special warm shows of affection and verbal praise for my lady. And it is at this time of year that I start to think of how I can dispel the cold and surprise her with some passionate poetry or letters that have eluded the writers of Valentine’s Day cards. I even find myself at times stopping the car along one of our country roads to pull over and jot down some sentiment.
And just as I was starting to think I was getting somewhere juicy, I chanced upon (courtesy The Writer’s Almanac) excerpts from the love letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf and from Edith Wharton to her lover, Martin Fullerton, the dashing but promiscuous, intellectual American expat journalist who reported for the London Times from Paris where Wharton was living.
Talk about unbridled passion that would definitely make Hallmark blush.
Wharton fell head over heels for her man, filling her diary with passages about how their romance and conversation made her feel like a complete woman, something she had never felt with her dolt of a husband.
Here’s one example that should set your heart thumping a bit harder:
“Do you know what I was thinking last night, when you asked me, & I couldn’t tell you? – Only that the way you’ve spent your emotional life while I’ve …hoarded mine, is what puts the great gulf between us, and sets us not only on opposite shores, but at hopelessly distant points of our respective shores. Do you see what I mean?”
At this point, we should just stop and be grateful to have been given such a revealing small peek at this “proper” lady, raised in great wealth and reared to be reserved and anything but exuberant, who has “hoarded” her emotional life, but is now screaming out to be loved.
She continues by musing about what she has to offer in language that few of us can ever dream of mustering:
“Am I’m so afraid that the treasures I long to unpack for you, that have come to me in magic ships from enchanted islands, are only, to you, the old familiar red calico & beads of the clever trader, who has had dealing with every latitude, and knows just what to carry in the hold to please the simple native–I’m so afraid of this, that often and often I stuff my shining treasures back into their box, lest I should see you smiling at them!”
“And if you can’t come into the room without my feeling all over me a ripple of flame, & if, wherever you touch me, a heart beats under your touch, & if, when you hold me, & I don’t speak, it’s because all the words in me seem to have become throbbing pulses, & all my thoughts are a golden blur – why should I be afraid of your smiling at me, when I can turn the beads & calico back into such beauty?”
If that’s not inspiration for your Valentine’s Day message, then take a gander at what the deeply smitten and lovesick Sackville-West told Woolf in the mid 1920s….
“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain…”
In a later letter, she cooed,
“My darling, I hoped I should wake up less depressed this morning, but I didn’t. I went to bed last night as black as a sweep… Why aren’t you with me? Oh, why? I do want you so frightfully. I want more than ever to travel with you; it seems to me now the height of my desire, and I get into despair wondering how it can ever be realised. Can it, do you think? Oh my lovely Virginia, it is dreadful how I miss you, and everything that everybody says seems flat and stupid.”
If that’s not the lust of marmalade to spread on your morning toast, I don’t know what you feed on.
Now get busy composing your own Valentine’s Day card rather than relying on something in the grocery store rack. You can do it. After all, what else is more important to do on a cold January night?