Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In the kingdom of the wind

WIND awoke in the darkness, and blew.

He rattled old windows, waking us from dreams of hearth fires and long summer days.

He reshaped the world to his purposes, which we do not know.

In his kingdom, no wall or window can hold him back.

WIND swallowed banked snow and exhaled it in drifts along the edges of walkways and roads....

 In his kingdom, straight edges are frowned upon.

WIND yanked rattling seeds from the ghost-bone-tree across the street....

In his kingdom, what is scattered is often gathered; but if not, no matter.

It is the cleansing and the scattering that counts.

WIND made snow devils that danced under my feet, whisked around corners, waved in long, icy banners like a blessing scarf....*

In his kingdom, there is no such thing as stillness, and chimes are made to be rung at midnight and dawn.

WIND wrote a snow map that I followed for only a moment, until coldness began to chew my flesh.

I fled before his teeth.

In his fierce northern kingdom, there is one simple law: Find a burrow. Or perish.

*credit to Robert Macfarlane in Mountains of the Mind for this simile, which he uses while writing about the summit of the Tibetan mountain Chomolungma, Mother Goddess of the Sky (ie, Mt. Everest). 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Winter in three parts

Part 1.
I was surprised to find the magazine “Men’s Journal” in my mail today. I checked the label. Maybe my husband had developed a heretofore-unknown-to-me interest in articles like “How to Trim a Beard” or “The Truth About Herbal Supplements.”

But no, the carrier had delivered it by mistake. It was meant to go to a gentleman living a block away. And how disappointed he would be if he had no magazine to read on these frozen January nights, which is what would happen if I just chucked it in the recycling bin.

So I pulled on the jacket, the boots, the mittens, the hat with faux-fur-lined ear flaps, and the infinity scarf (for the infinity winter), dodged the cats hovering around the door, and ventured out into what Minnesotans fondly refer to as “the tundra.”

Thirteen degrees. (That is -10.5556 degrees to the rest of the world.) Bright sun lancing off the fresh fall of snow. Cold, cold wind from the north, the direction in which I was walking. A brisk and beautiful day, actually, with all the diamond brilliance of deep winter above and below, if you could just raise your face from out your scarf for a moment to see it.

On the way home, I saw a Pomeranian wearing a white-and-red doggie coat dash out into the intersection, all the while barking at the wheels of a giant blue dump truck that was trying to make a turn. The little dog so small, brave and foolish. He came to no harm. The driver kept his foot on the brake until the dog’s person came puffing up and nabbed him. Pom scolded and held tightly in his person’s arms, smile on my face then and even now.

It takes a while to feel warm again after going out. I switched on the heating pad to bring my toes up to room temperature as I sat writing. But after a while, I felt the westering sun reach through the window to cup my elbow, then stroke its warm golden fingers along my arm, like the hand of a friend.

Part 2.
January’s sun is low in the sky. Any cloud not directly overhead looks damson-hued, colored like sunset all day long.

The other night, snow was falling as I drove home through the park, whirling down from the misting gray clouds like fairy handkerchiefs. And the song went: White snow, black branches, gray sky. The elemental story, the original lullaby, the essential shapes of the winter, all singing cold, sleeping songs like water rippling, fire burning. Did you know that cold burns like fire?

Tonight, the full moon shines in the east, exquisitely wreathed by gauzy cloud, softest pearl edged with opal. That aurora whispers of hypnotic snowfalls soon-to-come in a language the night birds seem to hear. I see them—first, a mass of black crows, then mallards silhouetted against the murk, winging southeast along the corridor of the Mississippi River, flying with the prevailing winds.

Part 3.

So you must persist 
in asking where my heart goes
all the long, cold night. 
Like following trails left by birds
who vanished with yesterday’s sky.

—Japanese poet Kōhō Kennichi, 
    translated by Sam Hamill

Friday, January 10, 2014

Running stitches across snow

Winter is a time for tracks. 

Journeys that in other seasons leave no record are imprinted beneath our feet merely by the act of walking. Boot prints and rabbit bounds, ski-slides and bird-whispers...all visible stories that catch the chilly light and long blue shadows of January.

“Stories, like paths, relate in two senses: they recount and they connect,” writes Robert Macfarlane in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot.

“Our verb ‘to write’ at one point in its history referred specifically to track-making: the Old English writan meant ‘to incise runic letters in stone’; thus one would ‘write’ a line by drawing a sharp point over and into a surface—by harrowing a track.

As the pen rises from the page between words, so the walker’s feet rise and fall between paces, and as the deer continues to run as it bounds from the earth, and the dolphin continues to swim even as it leaps again and again from the sea, so writing and wayfaring are continuous activities, a running stitch, a persistence of the same seam or stream.”

“Paths and their markers have long worked on me like lures: drawing my sight up and on and over. The eye is enticed by a path, and the mind’s eye, also. The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land—onwards in space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and its previous followers. 

“As I walk paths I often wonder about their origins, the impulses that have led to their creation, the records they yield of customary journeys, and the secrets they keep of adventures, meetings and departures.”

Macfarlane is an exceptional prose stylist, master of a deep vocabulary with which to describe the landscape and its forms. While reading this wide-ranging book, I kept a pen at the ready to record (i.e., map) all the unfamiliar words I encountered. Schooled! 

(If these quotes entice you to read the book, note that there is a glossary at the end that defines most of these terms...discovered upon finishing the book.)

The Old Ways: An Idiosyncratic Map of Geographical Mystifcation:

Lochan, rinky, trods, desire lines, hodology, sublunary, biogeography, foil [track], corpse roads, leys, drongs, sarns, snickets, shieling, bison roads, grey wethers, sarsens, hoarstones, bostles, shutes, driftways, lichways, ridings, carneys, herepaths, bindle-skiffs, kist, scarp, gneiss, esculent, weald, corry, ortholith, cromack, alterity, geans, batholith, ling, schists, boustrophedon, massif, sintering, bathyspheric, hominin, panjandrum, stravaiger, frails [leaf], marly, corbelled, scurfed off, pachinko, chert, skip (noun), dabbing cloth, sedulous, lenticuler, albedo, chiasmic, hierophany, cursus, xenotopia, chrism, exigesis, vertex, oneiric, blebs, conduplicate, involute, dupel, glaucous, candle-blacking, coombe/combe, beech ahngers, atavism, phragmites, bodging, fissile, Lob, infaunal, marram, seracs.

Photos: Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis, MN
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