Diane Blanks, Blue Ridge Mountain Views, #16: Of Winter Blues and Cats

Published Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Blue Ridge Mountain Views

“Of Winter Blues and Cats”



"Of Winter Blues and Cats." Snow Hemlock. Photo by Diane Blanks.

Snow Hemlock. Photo by Diane Blanks.

Every afternoon at 5:30, there is a great swirling of cats around my ankles. It’s like they have watches on their hairy little arms. That’s the time each day they split a can of Fancy Feast. Cats wind around your ankles, they say, because that’s the way they tell you, “I am here.” With only two, there aren’t really enough of them to make up a “clowder of cats,” but it feels like it. Interestingly enough, I read that a group of cats is also called a “glaring,” but I have no idea why.


We’re currently emerging from our third ? fourth? snowfall in recent weeks, along with some subzero wind chills. This latest snow, though, is spring snow, full of water and resting light on the evergreens and the ground. Spring snow doesn’t hang around–it’s quick to melt and to fall off the trees. But under the latest snow in my yard is about 7″ of compacted earlier snow. As I was out driving, in between blizzards, I saw that many yards had melted off, with green grass showing. But as my house is down in a hole (or “up a holler,” depending on my mood) and surrounded by massive old trees, I’m still frozen in. It’s like sleeping in a tent on an iceberg–I can feel the cold radiating through the walls from the sea of white surrounding me.


When I was young, we didn’t own an outside thermometer. That would have been a frivolous indulgence, as we had The Laurel. The Laurel was actually, and still is, a huge rhododendron that grows at the corner of the house; it’s now higher than the front porch. For some reason which I have yet to figure out, mountain people called rhododendrons “laurels.” Huge twisted masses of the shrubs are still often called “laurel hells.” And what people now call mountain laurel, the old-timers called “mountain ivy.” And flame azaleas, we called “honeysuckle.”

Whatever you call it, the laurel bush is still an accurate thermometer. When the weather is bitter cold, the leaves draw up into long cigar shapes. In my early years here, we always checked the laurel before dressing to go outdoors, to know how much to bundle up. It was invariably reliable. I read that the leaves do that to preserve moisture in severe cold.


I’ve now moved to my family’s traditional cure for winter blues: I went outside, picked some forsythia branches to force and brought them in and put them in water. When the flowers open, I’ll warm my sun-starved hands over them. There are other shrubs you can force, flowering quince and pussy willow among them, but we always used forsythia. The little yellow bell-shaped flowers hold the always-hoped-for promise of the return of Spring.


News at eleven,




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