These last couple of mornings, as the sun first poked its head above the eastern hills, the woods behind the house turned into a crystalline wonderland.

Walking through them just after dawn, a couple of sounds broke through the silence, adding to the sense of frozen awe.

First, there was the crunch of the ice and snow under your boots. This is sort of expected, but really takes just the right weather conditions. It’s a comforting kind of sound, like eating a bowl of cold cereal. Slow, steady, relentless, renewing.

The second sound was more unexpected. With the branches, hanging heavy — but stunningly — with ice, the slightest breeze would bring a wind-chime tinkling: from all around and above you, there would come a sing-song sense of a thousand glasses clinking softly but surely.

Third, this meant that my ears had not, in fact, frozen and fallen off, other senses to the contrary. So this was a plus.

It was an amazing morning, despite the sub-zero temperatures. I fear these photos don’t do it justice.

It was a similar sort of day, yesterday. Not quite as frigid, but bright and clear.

I drove slowly to our little town hall around lunchtime, as the Wisconsin roads are still entombed under crunchy inches of ice and snow. At least they are out here in the country. You know, what with our horse-drawn carriages and wurzle-mangles and moonshine and all. Not like you city folk.

Judith and I realized early in the day that our votes in the Wisconsin Primary would cancel each other out. For a moment, we wondered if there was then any point in going to vote anyway, this “canceling each other out” being the case, and ten below zero being ten below zero. I’m not sure why or when exactly we decided there was, indeed, a point to it. Democracy is democracy, all cool and shit, yeah, yeah, yeah. Still, I’ve never been one of these “for the love of God, people, VOTE. Just VOTE!” types. Seriously, there are lots of people I’d prefer didn’t vote. And I’m not talking about anyone with whom I might have a difference of political opinion. I mean people who can’t find Europe on a map, who think Lindsay Lohan is a legitimate news topic, or who keep Hot Pockets in business. NO VOTE FOR YOU!

Forcing my hand, the lovely and talented Judith, who’s both able, willing, and indeed eager to find Europe on a map, went to vote on her way to work.

We live just outside of Madison, kinda sorta in the countryside, as per the photographic clues above. Our little town hall looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell illustration, and I half expect to hear Will Rogers opining in a droll but rustic way from a corner of the tiny wooden building whenever I walk inside. That, or Tom Bodet promising to leave the light on.

The town hall could pass for a one-room schoolhouse, save that, Tardis-like, there actually seem to be at least three rooms in it. The fact that it’s still standing at all is quite remarkable, given that the wind’s got nothing to slow it down as it comes blasting over the snowy, icy fields directly at the thing from any direction you care to name.

Yet it stands. And every couple of years, people drive from miles around to cast their votes.

It’s a bit hokey, but terribly sincere. Also, it’s got salt and sand, which was desperately needed for our driveway. When you live in the country, “free salt and sand” is like saying “free buffet” to a college student.

The Primary was the only thing on the ballot, this year. All you had to do was mark off one candidate. That was it. With pen and paper. There wasn’t even an voting machine to worry about. Simply a couple of tables of old women who you gave your name to, then who handed you a piece of paper with a number on it, then who you gave the piece of paper with the number on it back to (still haven’t figured that one out), then who put a check by your name in a giant book, then who finally let you have your ballot.

It wasn’t so much “Diebold” as “Bluhair,” which I think most people agree is far more trustworthy. If nothing else, at least it’s a better shot at getting cookies afterwards.

Anyhoo, short story long, etc., etc.: I get my ballot, meandered to one of the curtained-off booths (I always thought the curtained booths were so cool when I was a kid, watching my parents vote).

And I voted.

I was torn, a couple of days ago. I could see going either way between two candidates. Each had strengths, each had minuses, each had unknowns. I just couldn’t decide. Until Candidate “A” started running some incredibly silly attack ads against Candidate “B.”

So voted for Candidate “B.”

Actually, my candidate, Candidate “C,” dropped out of the race a long time ago. In fact, let’s not even call him Candidate “C.” Perhaps “Candidate “F” would be more appropriate. Or simply “Candidate Loser.” “Loser,” for short. Possibly “Candidate Not-The-Beagle-In-The-Westminster-Dog-Show. Not-Even-Close. Perhaps-That-Mutt-In-The-Corner. Oh-Wait. It’s-Dead.” Not that I’m bitter. But I digress. None of this is really the point.

The point is, I voted.

Actually, that might not even be the point, either.

The point was, the moment I turned in my ballot, I felt good about voting.

I didn’t mean to. Lord knows, I’m as cynical as anyone, these days.

But it felt good.

No matter what we’ve been through:the lies, the tragedies, the disappointments, the fear, the worry, the corruption, the scandals, the shooting-your-hunting-partner-in-the-face.

Somewhere, deep down, was a sound I’d forgotten existed. A crystalline, sing-song sound, like the wind in the woods.

All it said was “this can all work again. This can all be good again. This can all matter again.”

“Even with my wife canceling out my vote?” I asked.

It was strangely silent on that bit. So I took a homemade cookie and went back out into the chill, clear day.

Feeling good.

This can all matter again.

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