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“It’s only winterbite,” my gardener friend assured me, handing me several mottled leaves from the Christmas Hollys we’d planted last spring in my side yard. Her windblown cheeks, her bulky sweatshirts and jeans, smudged from previous work, bespoke her authority tending gardens. She brightened and leaned over. “See these buds beneath other stressed leaves? Once the earth warms up, they’ll push them off and form new leaves.”

Like the Christmas Hollys, I, too, suffer from winterbite. So weary of wearing long underwear and multiple layers of heavy clothing, so bone-chilled by arctic winds, so leery of inaccurate weather forecasts, so sun-deprived, so tired of in-house walks.

Like everyone, I yearn for the warming sun to quicken my own budding with spring’s pastels: pinks, raspberry, peach, rose …




Skeletal fingers disembowel fevered spirits, agonizing for a fix before the next holiday bash—and there are many, in the glitziest of venues. Desperation sours puke, hiccoughs frenzy the chest, joints scream in pain. Too chicken-hearted to opt for death, there seems no way out.

But there is—for those willing to change. It’s all about waking up to the full implications of our humanness, rife with loss. Within such losses that knee us before a Power greater than ourselves, we sense a faint voice emerging from our depths: so unlike the carping one with the bullwhip. We sink back on our haunches. We listen. Tears pool our eyes. Chests stop heaving. Hands fold in prayer. Something akin to peace surfaces like a fragrant lotus blossom: its glossy pink bespeaks Joy.

And then it’s over. Still on our haunches, we slip to the floor and prostate ourselves beneath the mantel of silence. We have been visited and we know it, but its memory mandates action.

Nothing left for us but to pick up our cell and call for help. It’s out there, even during the holidays.


A sense of fluttering between life and death pervades the novel, Flight Behavior (2012) by Barbara Kingsolver. A master wordsmith, she seams three stories together: the twenty-seven year old Dellarobia Turnbow, with shoulder-length red hair, in a lackluster marriage working with in-laws on their hardscrabble sheep farm; the plight of millions of Monarch butterflies wintering, by mistake, upon their mountain forest in Appalachia; and global pollution threatening this fragile ecosystem.

For five months, both Dellarobia and the butterflies remain suspended in animation, their future unknown as they endure bone-chilling rains, muddied paths, and near freezing temperatures.

A quickening arrives in the person of Dr. Byron, entomologist and life-long student of Monarch butterflies, from a university in New Mexico. He visits this phenomenon and with his associates sets up a lab in the Turnbow sheep barn to monitor this catastrophe. He also enlists Dellarobia’s help. The flickering of Monarchs clumped for warmth against tree trunks stirs probing questions within this young mother. Like the butterflies’ instinct for survival, she roots around the predictable corners of her life and imagines a different one for herself. In the process, she finds her voice and raises significant questions to her spouse, his family, and her community, all the while caring for eighteen-month Cordie and her inquisitive brother; both offer a much-needed comic relief.

Only Barbara Kingsolver could bring all this to a head with her finger on the faint pulse of life, with textural images that breathe, and with the ecstasy of release. A riveting read, from the first page.




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