to Bethlehem. Maxed-out credit cardsrnand nonreligious “seasonal” ones, jazzeduprncarols, intcrfaith prayers, angels thatrnlook like Barbie with wings, Alfred E.rnNewman dressed like Santa Clans,rncelebrities at the White House (at yourrnexpense and mine), Madeleine Albrightrnin the Middle East, cheese balls and rosernwine, double-parked UPS and FederalrnExpress trucks, the ghost of Dickens’ pastrn(Scrooge resurrected as Ronald Reagan),rncomputers with bows on them, lines,rnlines, lines—of people, of cars . . . Nextrnyear I think I’ll rediscover an old Christianrndispensation by invading somernchurch and declaring sanctuary there,rnhuddled among dying poinsettias.rnChristmas cards from old girlfriends yourndon’t want to hear from, silence fromrnthose you do . . . The old year windingrndown, and now Y2K upon us. Wliat’s inrna number? “2000” is just another digitalrnadjustment, like the odometer on yourrncar turning over. If, on the other hand, itrnproduces the meltdown of the globalrncomputer network, that would really bernsomething to celebrate —so would therncollapse of the stock market. (Afterward,rnwe could all get back to the business ofrnliving again.)rnAs late as my middle 40’s I used to berndepressed by the onset of winter, experiencingrnit as a rehearsal for old age andrndeath. That made as much sense as therncolumnist who declared July to be therncrudest month after it had to be in-rn.scribed on John E. Kennedy, Jr.’s tombstone.rnA few years later, winter, likerndeath, seems to have lost its sting—somernof it, anyway. Every season, like everyrnyear, is a life-cycle unto itself: spring,rnsummer, fall, winter. January is as youngrnas Jidy, September old as December.rnSnow-skiing and water-skiing are equallyrnappropriate to the young and those whornfeel young; short days as vital as longrnones. In addition to which, the inevitabilit)’rnof death means only that therernis work yet to be done, and work is somethingrnbetter than youth; It is life itself Itrntook years for me to refuse the pain ofrnmortal loss I felt every fall at oiling saddlery,rncleaning guns, organizing camprngear, and packing everything away untilrnspring. Now, I feel instead a release: intornthe world of making and reading books,rnlistening to music and learning newrnscores —undisturbed by other possibilities,rnthe awareness that I should (orrncould) be somewhere doing somethingrnstrenuous, adventurous . . . dangerous.rnIt’s enough instead just to work for sixrnmonths, and work well. (And ski crosscountry.rnAnd ride a horse barebackrnacross the snowy plain, trusting to thernfier- barrel and rough coat between yourrnknees to keep you warm. Hunt cottontailrnrabbits on snowshoes with a .22, rifle orrnrevolver. And flirt with pretty womenrnapres ski when the lifts are closing and thernbar is filling up.)rnSchubert put all of life into Die Winterreise,rnnot just snow, ice, darkness, andrndespair; so, in his December Songs inspiredrnby the Schubert opus and writtenrnfor the incomparable chanteuse AndrearnMarcovicci, does Maury Yeston. Withrnnothing much to do outside on a subzerornday but pull hay bales down from thernhayrick and break the ice in the trough, Irnlie for hours on the sofa listening to Mareovicci’srnpoise-perfect performance, appreciatingrnher flawless vocal techrnquernand superb interpretive craftsmanship,rnrelishing tiie puritv’ of her voice, by turnsrngirlish and womanly, lighthearted andrntragic. She’s doing a stand tonight at thernOak Room in the Algonqinn Hotel inrnNew York Cit’, which is where I am rightrnnow: seated at a table up front under thernpiano, in black tie to match her black elvetrndress, drinking champagne and smokingrna cigar (trooper that she is, she canrnsing above the smoke), Jim Tate andrnTony Outhwaite with me in their penguinrnsuits, and 36 longstem red roses (arndozen from each of us) beneath the tablernfor presentation after the performance.rnAnd outside the elegant room where wernsit enthralled. New York in December: arnnight sky stained red bv city lights, therntracks of taxis in the snowy streets, arnblonde in a fur coat and hat standing atrnthe iron gates in front of 21 while her escortrnpays the cab fare. What is shernsinging now? “But of course, / It was onlyrna dream . . . “rnThe road not taken. Better off out herernin Wyoming after all, where the mostrnpriceless luxun,’ tiie modern world has tornoffer —solitude —is common as sagebrushrnand bcntonite. (At a price, ofrncourse: Even the priceless carries a tag attachedrnto it.) South of Casper, the routernbehveen Dubois and Laramie crosses thernShirley Basin, skirting the Shirley Mountainsrnon its way to the town of MedicinernBow (population 350) for a distance of 71rnmiles. In wintertime, these are not relaxingrnones. East of Bear Mountain thernground blizzards begin, pushed by windsrnup to 70 miles an hour tunneling northeastrnthrough a ventura opening to thernhigh plateau. The road disappears inrnblowing snow, though the sk’ remainsrnblue above; barely in time I discern a carrnoff the road where it failed to make therngrade ahead. A Subaru wagon, and besidernit a tall figure dressed in blue and arnblue woolen cap on its head, waving itsrnarms like a militar)- signalman.rn”Are you a mechanic?” the figurernshouts as I draw alongside. He has tiiernhood up, so the engine compartment isrnfilling rapidly with snow.rn”Only when it comes to horses. Yourncan’t work on a car out here in tiiis weather.rnGet in and I’ll give you a ride as far asrnLaramie.”rnHe’s a student at the University ofrnWyoming, returning from a visit to hisrngrandparents in Thermopolis.rn”What happened to your car?” 1 ask,rngearing down from fourth gear to third asrnthe truck enters a curve. (On ice, vou’rernsafer when the engine does the brakingrninstead of the peddle.)rn”I have no idea. I coiddn’t get po\errnon the hill and tiien the engine died andrnall the idiot lights went on. I had plentrnof oil and gas, though.”rnThe fuel line frozen, most likeK—rnsomething I warned Rhonda against. Arnstudent of postindustrial technolog}’, myrnpassenger appears to have little if any familiaritv’rnwith tiic industrial-age variet’.rnI’hat’s all right, I’m neither ser’iee-stationrnrepairman nor rocket scientist myself.rnHe’s lucky I happened to comernalong, though.rnSo you’re going back to cold country-,rnthey said, shaking their heads imcomprehcndingly,rnwhen I departed Nue’o Mexicornlast summer with a song in mv heart.rnWell, yes. And whv not? Winter buildsrncharacter and promotes the healthfulrnconsumption of alcohol and fine wines.rnilso solitude, character-building not beingrnhigh on Americans’ personal agendarnthese days. And peace. Wdiat, finalK, isrnthe secret to life, if not wanting for yourselfrnonly what no one else wants at all?rnThe saints have always grasped that feetrnintuitively. Wiy should it be so tough forrnus sinners to figure out? trnWhen in RockfordrnEat atrnLee’s Chinese Restaurantrn3443 N. Main Streetrn.SO/CHRONICLESrnrnrn