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Ed on Cold Mountain
The sky was gray today. The clouds hung low, looking like soft concrete. The impression was of some cosmic big box store that had taken possession of the aerial real estate and was hanging suspended over my world, horizon to horizon. This new neighbor sported neither doors nor windows, nor logo over non-existent entry, nor bright red letters spelling out a short, catchy all caps name. Instead of an easily read and remembered short syllable identifier, no words revealed anything of the goods being vended within. I suspected the stock in trade was rain, and before dusk was proven correct.
So much for my New Year’s resolutions. In an attempt to silence the din of tinnitus, I thought I would try avoiding chocolate for a year. Hah! No sooner was the resolution firmly made than the free chocolate began to show up. Friends appeared, proffering bits of sweet darkness wrapped in glowing foil, shrink-wrapped paper plates materialized, loaded to the gunwales and beyond with buttery, sugary fudge, and of course the last of the Christmas cookies were discovered tucked away in the back of the fridge. So it goes, and my ears and I are ringing in the New Year.
Checked the new 100 words website twice today; still not up. I am looking forward to posting this month, and I want the site back up soon. I hope Jeff resists the temptation to make it too “graphic-y.” I enjoyed the old-timey feel of the original site. It was more of a Philco console radio sort of experience than an MTV or movie experience. I like the fact that words are not pictures, but more like a crystal balls. Stared at attentively, with concentration, they disappear to be replaced with bright visions more real than even the best cg effects.
This morning I drove the first car into the Fall Line parking lot. At 8:45, through a cloudless blue sky the sun on the snow was already sunglasses bright. I booted up while the snowplow threw plumes of sparkling whiteness 20 feet into the air, then I rode for 3 hours. Mostly on groomed runs but often on long stretches of unbroken soft snow. After a while, I discovered an un-groomed blue run thigh deep in powder. I did this run twice; had the place to myself both times and at one point spontaneously shouted with the joy of it.
It is snowing hard tonight; the air thick with flakes, thicker even than the white atmosphere inside your average snowglobe. This encircling opacity is typical in winters when the Western states get the cold and the wet and the Eastern states the warm and dry. Blame it on El Nino or the meddling aliens, or the dreaded Global Warming, but cherry trees are blossoming in the Capital, filling their particular globe with a glowing pinkish purple haze. As the cherry trees flower in the sunlight, their snow-weighted hemlock kin bow low in the shadows, nodding their canopies to the East.
I have plunged into the river that is Pynchon’s “Against the Day.” I find myself bobbing along at a clip, slapped by word waves mostly of Greek origin, obstructive, unpronounceable clatterings of consonants like sharp edged rocks in the stream, avoided with a stroke or two of aquatician limbs, gazed at respectfully during the rapid passage through, making note of the shadowy shape-shifting alteration of the wet spot on each obdurate surface. Descending the gradient swiftly, I meet up-stream travelers leaving the comfort of the expansive realms of salt to seek the clean gravel of their birth and death watersheds.
The county got poured upon today. A warm wind, a lot of rain and the result was a good old-fashioned January thaw. When I first came to Idaho these were called “Chinook” conditions. Now they are supposed to be evidence of Global Warming I guess.
Just enough daylight
This brief January day,
to see each raindrop.
I stayed inside and kept the woodstove ticking along while I baked four loaves of bread in the electric oven. Occasionally I checked the 100 words site, hoping that this odd collection of message-in-a-bottle scribblers would soon have our ocean re-filled.
I am now halfway through “Against the Day” and I admit to a degree of disappointment with the book’s substance, although freely confessing sheer glee at the experience of tumbling along with the rhythm and the sound. Far enough into it to have earned an opinion, I say it reads like rap. The energy is staggering, alluring, intoxicating; the imaginative vision extraordinary. But as in rap, for the most part, the energy is spent mythifying criminals and preaching the Nihil Gospel. The references to Zen are cool, though, as are the sly pop cultural wink/nods, like the executioner named Flagg.
The wet Chinook continues, intensifies even, bring more rain and more wind. The wind increases in velocity, rumbling and gasping as it divides at the house corners, rattling the windows and even shaking the doors in their frames. It is easy to think of the wind as a human voice. We talk of it “moaning” or “whispering.” But here in the woods at night, surrounded by a forest being made to dance as easily and madly as a field of wheat, the wind seems less a voice than an enraged blind god, a first cousin to Avalanche, Tsunami and Earthquake.
It was quiet on the ski hill today. Not many people, no new snow, and, for a change, no winds. Last night’s storm created hard runs, crusty conditions off the groomed surfaces and in quite a few places where the last few flakes of light snow were swept away by the wind, large disks of silver ice. The sun was shining; it glinted from the ice encrusted northwest sides of elegantly thin Alpine firs, but added not a calorie of warmth to the air. With my new board-oriented attitude toward winter I just enjoyed the beauty and prayed for snow.
The cat lies ruggishly on her side, splayed like a trophy bearskin, done in by the heat of the wood stove. She looks sort of how I feel, in a way. My eyes are melting and running from the heat of reading computer screen text, my brain fat is softening with the effort to render 100 words. This should be easy, just a few lines of description, couple of emotion laden adjectives and the job is done. Well, OK, I already described the cat so here’s the emotion: I am a kettle on the wood stove; stress evaporates, contentment condenses.
Night has come again. At the end of a long day, I sit up, awake, listening for words in my head. But the house is quiet, even the wood stove has stopped crackling and sunk into silence. It was 4 below zero this morning, and it is as if the cold is a bottomless sink not only for heat but for sound as well. No birds call, no twigs snap as deer pass. The pen on paper sounds like mice scratching at insulation in the walls, working at the spun glass barrier that separates me from the dark, absorbing cold.
I dreamed I was living as a hermit, in a small cottage I had built myself, out of sticks and clay. The land around me was fertile and green, wide fields and soft maple-covered hills. In some seasons the fields exhaled veils of fog, and in the low morning light the fog took the shape of patient farmers, bending forward, scratching furrows in the damp, dark earth with crooked sticks. These were farmers, I knew, either from long ago or from far in the times to come. I knew this because these farmers would not use animals in their work.
A pack of dogs lives up the road from us. Their owner doesn’t fence them; none has ever known the restraint of a leash. There are 6 or 7 animals in the group; all of them large-boned mongrels and most them colored some variation of dirt brown. A couple of the wolfier looking ones are gray and black, the perfect camouflage for skulking through alder and birch thickets. They leave their tracks in the snow around my empty house while I am at work. On bright bitter-cold winter afternoons they lie about on the shoulders of the road, eying passers-by.
A goggle of heat encircles my eyes. My eyebrows, combustible under the correct conditions, begin to smolder. Were it not for the water oozing from my eyes the lids would already have been toasted to chips. The firemen tasked with caring for the brain are either busy battling the virus hand-to-hand at the station house door or else have discovered the subtle pleasures of playing checkers while inhabiting a virally modified firehouse. My freshly washed and combed hair lies neatly in place. No hints given there of the inferno blazing only millimeters away on the other side of my scalp.
I slept all morning. Not like me, really, but what can you expect; I spent the night dancing with myself. I tossed and turned through the night, rolling first to one side then the other trying to get the plugged sinus to drain to the open sinus, and when the sought for moment came that both nostrils were free, quickly starfishing onto my back for a few deep breaths, grateful as hell. Then, one side would begin to plug up again, and the oscillation would resume. Finally, sometime in the little hours, exhaustion raised his hand and stilled the orchestra.
Thanks to the “free” time from work that comes along with a cold, I am now almost three-quarters of the way through “Against the Day” and I think I am beginning to appreciate the “point” of the “novel.” (Both terms have had their definitions stretched into new dimensions.) It is a “ratting” of the spun filaments of the “tribute to the 60’s” girl-groups bouffant “do” that is modern history. Teased to an explosion of follicular expressions, expanding synaptically through
space and time (!)
yet still anchored to the earth head, while the actual identity of the girl is network-ishly veiled.
Blog Moment: In the furor and hullabaloo surrounding this completely bullshit non-binding Senate resolution (all criticism, no recommendations) let us not forget that Clinton also believed that Saddam had WMD’s, in fact at one point called him the greatest threat on the planet, and that both testimony and documents gathered after the fall of Saddam confirm that the Iraqi government had clear intentions of re-arming with bigger and badder WMD’s the instant the UN sanctions were lifted. End of Blog Moment. The snow has resumed, falling softly, gradually softening the frozen surface left by a week of intense cold temperatures.
Strange day at work for a couple of reasons. First, today was my first, last and solitary workday this week. because Monday was a holiday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were “down with a cold” days. Work always looks a little different after an extended time off. And second, I heard a lot of stories about people I know who all within this week have experienced serious cardiac problems; a heart attack, an open-heart surgery, three angiograms and two angioplastys. Being 60, but feeling fine, (sniffles excepted), this news left me with an unsettled mix of feelings; compassion and anxiety.
When I first moved out here, to our land in the forested mountains, I had long been in the habit of thinking of myself as a “coast” person, but I liked this place for its potential, for what I thought it could become. In a relationship with it for 15 years now, I have finally learned to appreciate what is already is. Just before dusk today, I walked outside and was stunned by the dark shapes of the motionless, snow-covered tall hemlocks backlit by the contrasting luminous blue-gray cloud background. As pretty a sight as anything I have ever seen.
The January days lengthen; twilight is 5 PM now, not 4. Garden catalogs arrive, and the firewood pile shrinks. These natural clocks time the passage of winter. On the other hand, it snowed hard Friday and Saturday, there is 2 foot of snow on the ground all around us and the thermometer hasn’t seen the sunny side of the freezing point for a week and a half. There are bermed-up snow banks six feet tall and more on the sides of the county roads, and the county sand trucks are kept busy making the way safe for the school buses
More snow fell today. It sifted down on and off most of the day and on into the early evening, finally amounting to another inch of so. It looks nice, a soft blanket drawn over the hard ice left by the week of smashing cold. I am appreciating the softness of the snow. As I drove home from work I could see the thick flakes drifting down through the beams of the headlights and through the bright cones of streetlighting. I saw a kid making snow angels on the bike path while a friend photographed her with a cell phone.
Driving back from District Headquarters this afternoon, I had the state highway almost completely to myself. 5 miles or so north of the CDA city limits the town traffic evaporated, and for the next 20 miles I rolled through the fog and mist alone, with no cars visible in windshield or mirror. The sky was low, the fog thick and close and the feeling of solitude on the highway was remarkable. About 5 miles south of Sandpoint the traffic began to reappear, and by the time I got to town I was just one more car in the typical crowd.
After Yoga last night, and a peaceful day at work I was feeling pretty content. Ah, finally, the wisdom and peace rumored and alleged to accompany age. With this calm wrapped around me like a warm coat, I felt smug about the (metaphoric) cold, yet all unraveled when I popped a cork listening to my wife’s stories of her workday. I got completely caught up in being pissed off at her supervisors and their idiocy and pretty soon I was surprised to find myself buck naked in the (metaphoric) cold, skinny dipping in the hot springs of my emotional self.
The fog was wooly and thick all around me as I drove out of town and it wasn’t until I had ascended a thousand feet or so that it began to thin. From tighly packed cotton balls to wispy gauze took a couple hundred more vertical feet and winding mile of road. The mist quietly shredded to reveal progressively more blue until I was in full sun under a cloudless sky. 4 hours later, returning, things were different. The fog had coalesced into a solid bank and with no transitioning I drove from full sun into a thick, wet mist.
I went back to the hill for another day in the sunshine. I wound through the thick fog until, like yesterday, I emerged into cloudless brilliant sunshine. Today I wore sunblock and its smell, coupled with sunshine and damp air put me in mind of a summer day at the beach. After an hour or so, I was loosened up, and the sense of being on a summer vacation intensified. I rode familiar runs most of the day, but finally, carried away by the day’s energy and my mood, I braved a couple of groomed black diamonds, and made them!
I watched an old John Wayne movie last night, “The Fighting SeaBees.” This was a movie that I remembered as having a powerful influence on my young life. I have a collection of memories, little mental “out-takes” of the movie that I have toted about in my head since the mid-50’s. After watching the movie, I realized that in fact I remembered almost nothing of the actual details. My mental images are not scenes from the movie, not “real memories”, but are pictures I created to represent my child self’s emotional responses to and identifications with the characters and action.
Weekends seem shorter than they used to be. Maybe because I tend to “sleep in” of a Saturday or Sunday whereas there was a time when I was up before the roosters. I tend to get through the week on 6 ½ or 7 hours of sleep each night, and then try to make up the shortfall on the weekend. Not that I mind sleeping, you know, it’s just that I want to be doing other things as well with the time it takes. If I am not careful, I wind up feeling frustrated instead of renewed by Sunday evening.
In the right wheel path of the East-bound lane of a highway bridge on the West side of town, a square section of concrete deck 30 inches on a side crumbled into pieces late this afternoon. Several plate sized fragments of paving material, attached only to rebar in the concrete, hung suspended 30 feet above the railroad tracks. Since I was the last engineer in the office at quitting time, I was dragooned to work with the repair crew and found myself controlling traffic in a snow storm, standing on the highway shoulder, with red flares burning at my feet.
By definition, the Infinite cannot be defined. All definitions of “this” create a universe of “not this.” No boundaries around the boundless. Words fail. When you meet the Buddha on the road (all together now!), Kill Him! One Love. Jah Rule. Surrender all to Jesus; halleluiah we are free! But Freedom in the world isn’t free. Salvation comes by Grace and not by Works. Breathing deeply is as satisfying as drinking cool fresh water from a mountain spring on a hot dusty afternoon. Align your hips and shoulders, move from the Hara. From powerful Tadasana, move outwards. Onward, Christian Soldiers!
Even though the clouds have moved in, thick rank upon rank, piled high and wide, horizon to horizon, to replace the clear skies, the temperatures have not begun to climb. Just the opposite, in fact. The clouds don’t seem to be exerting their usual blanket effect. It seems that the snow on the ground is acting as an anti-blanket to the creatures living on its upper surface. The snow radiates cold and the clouds absorb the soul of cold, leaving behind the lifeless residue of cold, the ashes of cold, the hollow husk of cold, the silent corpse of cold.
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