Thursday, January 31, 2013


The calligraphy of cold writes on my old windows...

...I see a parrot tulip stenciled in ice...

...a child's drawing of feline ears rising from a scarf woven of crystal floss...

...and a warm-blooded little cat who pushes her face against my hand and purrs, unused to being anything but the center of attention.

Stazi Lu and I might wish we lived someplace where Imbolg actually does signify the softness of springtime—a warmer place, where the midpoint between winter solstice and the spring equinox is celebrated with towering fires on the high hills, and fiddled melodies, and a fine, pagan revelry....

The rhythms and seasons of the Upper Midwest are a world away from those of the old Celts, though. Early spring is still a good six weeks away. It is one degree Fahrenheit, the sun has descended and the wave of frigid air emanating from each double-hung window reaches far into the house's interior. I hear the high-pitched spinning of car tires on the ice as my neighbors try to negotiate the frozen ruts of the alleyway behind our house. It is hard to make oneself go outside; but it is hard in a different way to stay in. And though I am to winter born, this quote otherwise sums up the last day of January:

“I, however, a tropical bird, was cold—cold one way outdoors and another way indoors, ceaselessly and more or less thoroughly cold.” 
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Monday, January 28, 2013

The longest month

This is how the world outside my window looked this morning. 

I finally got geared-up for a run yesterday about ten minutes after the freezing rain started. Already the sidewalks were coated with a pebbled, opaque ice, treacherous for running. The middle of the street was mostly clear, due to the chemicals and wheels, so I ran there. But I'd only covered half a mile before even the asphalt iced over, so I turned around and walked home in slightly soggy defeat, flinching as the occasional ice pellet bounced off my face.  

Blessings of the snow came later in a whirl of pelting flakes, when I happened to catch sight of a Northern Harrier—a species of small hawk—perched on the fence outside the kitchen window. Maybe attracted by the small birds at my backyard feeder. Enchanted by her wild presence—the royal autumn plumage of rich, brown-and-white-and-black-speckled feathers, puffed up against the cold, and a burning yellow eye—I stared at her, murmuring praise all the while.

And since harriers have exceptional hearing, it could have been the faint sounds of my human words that sent her sweeping off toward the north, tilting against the swirling, white wind. (Am I the only one who finds it difficult to keep my praise and delight to myself when coming face-to-face with such wonders? Which reminds me of something Treebeard said in The Lord of the Rings: "Elves began it, of course, waking trees up and teaching them to speak and learn their tree talk; they always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did.")

Now the pretty icing of snow has melted off the gingerbread cottage, the shoveling is done, and the harrier is off hunting mice by the light of the Wolf Moon. The longest month is almost over.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snow dreams

"The long white ragged lines were drifting and sifting across the street, across the faces of the old houses, whispering and hushing, making little triangles of white in the corners between cobblestones, seething a little when the wind blew them over the ground to a drifted corner; and so it would be all day, getting deeper and deeper and growing more and more silent."
—Conrad Aiken, Silent Snow, Secret Snow

"I thought, shivering, that there are things that outweigh comfort, unless one is an old woman or a cat."
—Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Monday, January 21, 2013

Language of the riverland

Tired of all who come with words, words but no language

I went to the snow-covered island.

The wild does not have words.

The unwritten pages spread themselves out in all directions!

I come across the marks of a roe-deer’s hooves in the snow.

Language, but no words.

               —Tomas Tranströmer, From March -79

Each terrain, each ecology, seems to have its own particular intelligence, 
its unique vernacular of soil and leaf and sky. Each place its own mind, its own psyche....
Each sky its own blue.

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Under cover

Snow sugared down as I walked along the river gorge, the sky heavily veiled by gray-white streamers of cloud over cloud. 

Fine, icy pellets stung my cheeks; before long, the damp wind snuck under my jacket and around the edges of my hat, which were not quite warm enough for my meandering pace. Especially not for bare-handed photography. 

But walking through the subtle layers and patterns of this day was pulling me into wordlessness. And that's what I was seeking, after all. So I tucked my hands into my sleeves and let the low light quietly disclose some secret caches.

This showing-not-showing, revealing-yet-hiding, had a playful quality...

Lacking the distraction of color, the winter world is delineated by shape and texture; all gracefully curving forms and exquisite points, pattern on pattern, rich as a William Morris damask

Copper and flaxen oak leaves huddle together companionably, making hobo homes in boot prints from an earlier snowfall.

The leaves even danced playfully around this ice boulder. Recalling my cat when she hides on the other side of the laundry basket piled with clothes, daring me to catch her, if I can...

...and I never can, unless she lets me.

Even something as prosaic as parking stripes take on a ghostly, topographic quality, as the flying snow snakes and writhes and chases itself across the asphalt.

Then I slipped back out of wordlessness and into coldness, and hurried back to my car to take turns holding the reddened fingers of each hand up to the heating vents as I drove for home, where coffee was waiting. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The white ghost

Birch tree

January's beloved,

Blank canvas of bright skin captures

Each shivering sunrise.

Skeleton branches swallow the moon whole,

Shed an Unseelie glamour

Calling home the white ghost.

White spirit winging and whispering,


Do you hear every breath breathed under snow

From your shaking sky palace, your cold bone tree

Your golden-eyed rest

Your silver-sheathed home?


The Welsh name Gwenhwyfar can be translated as The White Enchantress, or alternately The White Ghost, from Uindo- "white, fair, holy" + *seibar "magic." (From here.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Dark three times

You live in a small, dusty Midwestern town, sometime in the 1930s. A town of creaky screen doors, faded flower-print dresses waving on clotheslines, chicken coops, cornfields and white wood-frame churches, where the night sky is still lit only by fireflies and the Milky Way.

It is an utterly ordinary dusty town. People listen to the radio in the evenings after they wash the supper dishes, and the only strangers occasionally encountered are the neighbors' out-of-town relatives or the door-to-door salesmen who come from other small and dusty towns.

And it is so dark and quiet at night. Quiet with a fine, silvered silence broken only by hoot owls, crickets, nighthawks and the rustle of the corn as the fox slinks through the stalks.

The townspeople mostly close their windows to this particular music, since warmth and safety can feel hard to come by.

One day in late autumn, when the harvest is in and bees cluster in their hives—an overcast day, when crows roost in the bare branches and caw loudly at small boys—a gypsy wagon with faded paint and gilded rosettes sets up on the edge of this dusty town.

Nobody knows where the wagon came from, or what it's for; but, being so unexpected, so unusual, the wagon (and the odd sounds that come from inside) stirs up a wondering that slowly builds as the afternoon passes.

Finally that evening, the townspeople hear the winding, beguiling melodies of a strange music wafting over the corn fields. Composed of accordion and clarinet and fiddle and they don't know what all...but the woman's voice calls to them, so they shrug on their coats and go, walking in pairs or bunches as the excited children race around them in the dark. After all, despite the dullness of their ordinary town, aren't they as curious as any other human creatures? And as drawn to magic and mystery?

So they gather on the edges, in that liminal space between town and not-town; wild and not-wild. They gather in the dark, under the moon, by the light of the leaping violet fire, where a ragtag company of musicians play well-worn instruments late, late into the night. Laughingly they gather on hay bales set around the encampment. Some close their eyes and sway slightly as the otherworldly, dark-velvet music enwraps them. Some shyly waltz together in that hinterland where the flashing edges of the firelight dance with the darkness.

And for a while, they are reminded that this world, which encompasses and breathes through themselves and every other living thing, is an enormous, unfolding story, of which each is part. That darkness is the other side of brightness, and joy the other side of pain.

The music to which they danced and dreamed that night sounded like this.



Dark Dark Dark are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While they don't to my knowledge travel via gypsy caravan, they do tour nomadically around the world.
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