Collecting details: In the bleak midwinter

Observing, collecting details as “glimmers of a beginning.”  A way of finding a story to tell.  That was the challenge this week.

in the bleak midwinter

Somewhere outside my window a machine hums incessantly for the second day in a row.  Its motor drones, the constant whirring sound punctuated by louder grinding noises.  Like a monster being fed, its appetite is ravenous.  It will not be sated.  My husband would be at the window checking to see where the sound is coming from, which neighbor has wood to chip this time of year.  But my husband is at work.  And I am too lazy, too disinterested to check out where Smaug is being used.  It doesn’t really matter in whose yard the machine/monster feeds.  Noise is noise.

Our yard has lots of trees and an overabundance of bittersweet.  The vine sidles up alongside the trees, curling a sinuous path out along limbs, growing thick and woody until it has strangled the life from the tree.  In the green of spring and summer it’s harder to notice the bittersweet in its sneaky trail below a layer of dirt, pushing through shrubs and other plantings.  We hack at it and pull it up, but it is incessant and wears us out.  Now, in the bleak midwinter, it is easy to see.  The vine coils around some of the trees, already thick as rope.

It’s the chill this time of year that I mistrust.  The trees stand like stark centurions behind the house, the only time I can see a sliver of the lake that lay beyond them.  The sky cracks like a sheet of glass.  Fingers feel fat and numb in no time in weather like this.  Why would anyone stand outside and feed wood to a machine?  I imagine how easily a monster like that could steal a finger or two.  There are no do-overs then.

A lawyer I know once defended a man who disposed of his wife with a wood chipper.  The lawyer is a kind man, softly rumpled, with hair just long enough to show a tendency to wave.  He wears sports coats and carries a leather brief case that looks like it was a gift when he graduated law school.  He has a fondness for Mark Twain, and reminds me of Atticus Finch.  I wonder what Atticus would make of a man who rid himself of his wife by such ugly means.  There is no nobility in defending such a person.  I expect the lawyer had his reasons.  He enjoys reading Twain, after all.

72 thoughts on “Collecting details: In the bleak midwinter

      • But didn’t you say in the piece that there isn’t any nobility in defending a man who commits heinous crimes? I’m confused….

        WoW response:

        I did, Pamela, but I also believe that everyone deserves a fair shot at justice. My ideal lawyer would be someone like Atticus Finch who, in the book, chose to defend someone he knew was innocent, even though a just outcome was unlikely in that circumstance, and in that place and time. I also think that twocorbies makes an excellent point in her comment below.


    • I agree. Also, regarding defense lawyers acting on behalf of reprehensible individuals: they’re not really defending the person so much as ensuring that our legal system proceeds as intended. Were we just to mete out justice without due process, mob rule would quickly follow. A stable society only has a tenuous hold, at best.

      A criminal who is not given proper due process has a good chance of getting freed upon appeal.


  1. “The sky cracks like a sheet of glass.” I like that a lot.

    As do I! Beautifully written, Mary. I wish I could capture your words in a butterfly net and pin them down in a photograph album (to borrow loosely from Counting Crows).

    And I know I’m not the only one who thought of Fargo, eh?


    • Ah, Christy, we two like minds . . . I actually had a sentence about how I cannot hear the sound of a wood chipper without thinking of Fargo, but cut it in the editing.

      Thanks for the butterfly image. I love that! Also, love Counting Crows, naturally.


  2. We all love a day with a chipper. Such thoughts do go through one’s mind. Your photograph says it all. Fresh breeze, massive growth and leaves.
    Thanks so much for evoking thoughts of autumn and winter as we are in the midst of a 42 degree heat wave Down-under. Merry Christmas.


    • Ha! When I read your comment I wondered why you would consider 42 degrees a heat wave until I realized that it’s summer in Australia and you were talking Celsius, not Fahrenheit which would make it 107 degrees here, and that is indeed HOT!!

      Feel free to come back and look at the cooling picture of snow-covered trees whenever you need to cool off. 🙂


  3. Have I told you before how much I admire your writing and love your gift? And clearly, I am not the only one … congrats on being Freshly Pressed!! What validation!!!


  4. I agree with others that you have a talent for writing. However, you need to finish the story. The attorney’s briefcase and affinity for Twain isn’t enough. Criminal defense attorneys take clients to make money. Typically, any aspiration they may have of becoming another Atticus Finch disappears within a few years of graduation. I arrived at this conclusion after covering a number of trials involving banal, if brutal, defendants represented by lawyers anxious to get home for dinner. So, perhaps a second thought to your essay might explore how the attorney you knew, an apparently gentle soul, learned to separate his humanity from his profession.


  5. Any fan of Mark Twain gets extra credit! Although wasn’t it Twain who said “laws control the lesser man … Right conduct controls the greater man.” ? Watch out Atticus.

    Get that vine while you can! Happy holidays.


    • Yes, I think Twain did say that. And about that vine . . . I googled it trying to find out how to get rid of it once and for all and evidently, the way to do it is by using something akin to napalm!

      A very happy holiday to you as well!


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  7. Hey Mary, congratulations on the Freshly Pressed! A great piece, beautifully written and a very unexpected unfinished feeling ending that left me wanting more. Stunning photo:-) Wishing you a wonderful Christmas, Hugs – Harula xxx


    • Thanks, Harula. The piece was a kind of exercise in finding a story. It was an interesting approach. Perhaps, I will finish it . . . one day. And, I’m happy you like my photo.

      Lots of hugs and good wishes for a beautiful Christmas to you, too! Keep warm.


  8. When I hear about these horrendous cases, I think to myself, “What happened to the good old days when people would just divorce?”
    I love how you weave a winter’s murderous rampage into this sordid tale in the last paragraph. Great writing, always.


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  10. I get the vine stranglers too. I used to cut them just above ground but they re-connected(they’re Cute). Now I cut out a 6 inch or 12 inch piece & burn it in my Solid Fuel stove(it feels like a mini ceremony-I get amazing satisfaction out of it, so much so that I’ve no vines left now & I’ll probably have to get a normal Hobby now). The next Winter the vine dies off & loses all its vigour. The best thing to do then is to get as much of it as is easily ripped down, an old thick vine makes very good fuel.
    I’ve only just realised that this lack of a Chipper means the marvellous option to feed my wife into it is gone.
    It’s a good job I’m not married or I might end up in the Chipper;)


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