STARK: adjective, stark·er, stark·est.sheer, utter, downright, or complete:stark madness.
harsh, grim, or desolate, as a view, place, etc:a stark landscape.
extremely simple or severe:a stark interior.; bluntly or sternly plain; not softened or glamorized:the stark reality of the schedule's deadline
I love the word, “stark.” I love words that mean what they sound like, and stark is such a word. Simple. Direct. Clear. As much as I like it, though, I do not use it very often. It is too “real” a word to be too lightly used. It is not a casual word that you can use anytime or anywhere; it will never fit as many situations and be as commonly used as, say, “nice” or “fine." It calls for a more solid and definite use. It seems to exist only for certain situations or realities that call it into being. Winter is the time of the year to use this wonderful word. This season is the reason the word exists. For so much of winter is gloriously “stark.”
We can notice that easiest in looking up at the winter night sky. With tree leaves gone and fewer hours of daylight around, we can look up and really notice the stars and the moon. They both seem more present and real in wintertime; more “there.” The blue of the night is intense, severe and plain: stark. The stars seem somehow closer-almost as if we can reach up and touch them. We see them in a new way and with a new clarity. The numerous constellations are in much clearer view, and the stars seem pinned to the sky in a way that makes them seem larger and brighter. Definite. The moon is naked and complete and clear and severe: it is stark. There is no question of where it is or what phase it is in. All is clear. And with the supermoon being visible tonight we can see that stark does not necessarily mean, “ugly” or “non-compelling.” It can, in fact be the complete opposite; “starkness” can be very compelling and very attractive. It can be, in fact, quite beautiful and dramatic.
We can also notice the beauty of winter starkness in the landscape. The ground in the garden is bare and brown for the most part. There are few plants or flowers to distract us, so if we look-really look-we can see the subtle variety of browns in the ground and see how “brown” is not just one color. We can also note the different greys of the rocks, and the jaggedness and barrenness of the bushes. If we stop and look closely at the tree stems and tree trunks we can see the beautifully colored bark on so many of the trees. That bark is out there and visible now, stark in its proud nakedness and glowing when the sunlight hits it at just the right angle. Winter is when we most clearly see this, notice it and appreciate it. Winter is when we allow ourselves to drink it in. And with the snowy landscape that February so often brings, we can hear the complete and simple softness and quiet of a world covered in freshly fallen snow. It is exquisite.
“Stark” has its own beauty, its own gloriousness and its own power. I will go out waking soon and pay attention to many of the trees in this neighborhood and their glorious trunks. I will look at the supermoon tonight and marvel. It will be cold yes, and a storm is in the forecast. But until I have to deal with the reality of digging out and using snow salt, I get a chance to take in the starkness and enjoy it. I hope you can too.