Window Stopping


“Put on the lights for the wayfarer,” my dad used to tell me in December, every day around dusk. For the holidays, my mom would place an electric candle in each window that could be seen from the road. She’d also tie a tiny faux sprig of holly to each window latch. We’d hang the holly sprays with black thread, and they’d shine amid the candles’ glow.

I’d often think of that so-called wayfarer, imagining someone trekking through deep snow, hunched over while large flakes blew onto his face. He’d catch a glimpse of light in the wintry mix and maybe come up to our door!

There weren’t any wayfarers, of course, but passersby couldn’t miss all the lights that would surely stir in them a peaceful, festive spirit.

Fast-forward into January and February. Gone were the holidays’ electric candles, but as I’d walk past neighbors’ houses at dusk, I’d catch glimpses of light cast on residents moving about. Kids practicing piano, parents cooking, a grandparent standing in the doorway assessing the weather, a frisky dog, or a cat silhouette. I still like to walk in the evening for this very reason, especially in Michigan’s northern regions. I enjoy seeing the hubbub of activity indoors and feeling the chill outside. If I smell smoke or notice puffy air floating from a chimney, all the better!

In chatting with this issue’s featured Studio Visit artist, Betsy O’Neill, we touched upon that golden window light and discovered that we share similar thoughts about what our neighbors’ illumination evokes come winter, no matter if you’re in the city or country. “Living in the city has its beauty, with streetlights and the snow coming down around them, and cozy houses with the lights on,” she told me. “Lights are more important to me in the winter, during the longer, dark days,” she continued. “Lights expand your spirit, your vibe, your aura — and as I walk down snowy streets, I can jump in and out of lighted circles expanding out from homes. It’s cozy and comforting. It’s connection.”

As for my own home, I could never pinpoint the exact feeling I get when taking in our window scenes until a friend prodded me to try to write about it. In the winter at my cottage, I like to go outside at night, beneath a trillion stars, or just before the sun rises over the icy lake. I meander through the crunchy snow, around and between huge evergreens, and turn to look through our lit windows. What is that feeling? Why the stirring of the heart?

And then, suddenly, I’m excitedly running through the house once again,  turning those holiday candles on. When I go outside, I see Mom through the window, and she’s cooking. My siblings and I are playing tag in the fresh snow. My fingers are tucked into warm mittens, and the smoke from a blazing fire gently wafts its way out of our chimney. I smell the aroma of burning wood mingling with the frosty air, and know a blazing fire and a hot dinner await.

But back to the present. I look through my cottage’s windows and feel like I’m watching a play, catching glimpses of my cherished life through the golden light beyond the glass panes. In the quiet winter stillness, the spotlight shines on a stage where my beloved family, my warm kitchen, my lit candles (always), my furnishings, and my life glow.

Silence is golden, they say. Yes, it most certainly is — and these soundless vignettes inspire contemplation and a grateful heart.

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