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Ed on Cold Mountain
I am thinking about sleeping and I am sleeping while thinking and while I am sleeping and thinking, thinking and sleeping, there are points of light sprayed across the field of my vision. It is, I imagine in my thinking sleep, like looking at the sun through the bottom of a colander while wearing multi-colored glasses. The air seems filled with a luminous confetti of light and each color brings with it the ringing of a different bell. And all together, the light bells make harmonious wake-up symphony alarm clock, wheeling anti-clockwise on the velvet field of deep sleep thought.
Ground hog (for today we will not consider ground as a verb). Was the shadow seen or not today by this creature of the burrows? I don’t know, and any answer would immediately fade into the darkness that drains from news heard downwards and pools up in the thick slow-swirling viscous wetland of mental marine mysteries that limns the farthest borders of my peripheral awareness. The frame around the head pictures that glow on my mind screen is not cobbled of solid polished hardwoods but of the unpronounceable vague shadow things that make up the forest where the groundhog lives.
Prophets who declaim that things are getting better, that the world marches on the road to improvements, are without honor in their own country, called dreamers and Pollyannas. Rather, we only want to hear from the wild-eyed folks in ragged clothing who dowse for and find the deep waters of our guilt, trace the bones of our shame with their angry fingers and tell us of the inevitable reckoning day that looms near, the inescapable moment when our souls will be weighed on the Great Scales, their falsified measure revealed and the Sword of Justice unsheathed to right all wrongs.
Another Sunday has come around, and that means I have another “not for re-sale” Spiderman comic to search out from where it lies buried in the shiny advertising supplements of the fat Sunday paper. This particular Sunday happens to be Super Bowl Sunday as well, but that bit of super hero fantasy does not interest me at all, especially when compared to the reality of the thin comic book reprint of stories that had such an impact on me back in the 60’s. How can mere performance enhancing steroids ever hope to compare with the venom of a radioactive spider?
I felt like I never really finished waking up today. Moving slowly, sleep walking really, I dragged myself through the work place routine, rubbing my eyes frequently and scratching my scalp, trying to resuscitate the brain. The weather was sleepy too; it provided a meteorological mood match, as a warm eye mask of fog settled across the brow of the world. Streets filled with somnambulistic and dozing drivers, the town seemed to be both in motion and in hibernation at the same time. Winter hypnosis plus post-Super Bowl stupor combined to create a Monday that passed quietly, leaving no memories.
The microwave beeps at the end of a heating cycle…four insistent little bleats… like a colicky infant with the hiccups. Construction equipment beeps when it backs up, loud piercing warnings. My truck beeps condescendingly, with attitude, when I don’t buckle my seat belt. Would it not be more pleasant if we could download ring tones for all these noisemakers the same way we do for cell phones? I imagine a world full of machines that sing rather than warn or alert. But, given that most ring tones sound like manic elevator music, probably this is not such a good idea.
Had a mushroom sandwich at the lunch break from a big state-wide work-related meeting while discussing office politics with co-workers. Usually I feel I have done a good job of being the kind of adult my youthful self would approve of, and certainly the mushroom burger would have gotten a big thumbs up from that kid of years gone by. Teen-age me, though, would have raised his eyebrows and made some wiseguy sarcastic crack about the adult me who doesn’t have imagination enough to find a topic of conversation more engaging than the personal power dramas of minor civil servants.
A day, just a day, a day that faded away, away from me, away from my memory so soon I hardly noticed or remembered what was happening as it was unhappy happening at the very moment. My mind was last and lost, lost at last in fantasies of the future to be from all future possibilities but not the far-flung star-hung distant future but the impossible possible of the very next moment, choosing(?) (who chooses?) to live in the anticipation of something special about to happy happen immediately soon to create a more and more momentous moment in the present.
OK, my teeth are fixed and I can eat apples, corn and croutons again. Maybe I should trim my beard and let the world have a look at my pearly grin. But, maybe not just yet; Winter isn’t over. A beard is great face fleece and cheek blanket. I stopped by my barber’s shop yesterday afternoon, but the shop was closed. The beard was reprieved for today. Then comes the week-end, then the Monday meeting will keep me at work, and so on and on will grow the beard as days and fate conspire to keep me from the barber.
I sawed and shaped sides for six picture frames, filling the shop with fine mahogany dust. Protected with respirators, filters and fans I barely smelled the tropical, cigar-box, forest and sand perfume. Only assembled five; ran out of clamps. The sixth, currently four molded sticks, sits on the bench waiting until tomorrow to come together as a frame. The five assembled frames are stacked in a tower, the corners of each rotated 90 degrees to the ones above and below. The effect is of a hollow wooden crystal, the obvious organic geometry of the yet undiscovered picture frame dna molecule.
The weekend whirlpool is speeding up, generating a powerful rip current that pulls me relentlessly in towards the inevitable pit of Monday. Soon there will be a long crashing descent down that vortex and an awakening jolt when I am brought up suddenly on the stony bottom of alarm clock and workweek. What seemed like a limitless ocean of freedom from time pressure viewed from Friday evening has become a constricting funnel of inexorability with slippery surfaces…can’t grasp them, can’t scratch a fingernail into a firm hold anywhere, spinning faster through what few moments of time remain of the weekend.
The ghosts of Irish poets hang around wood stoves in winter; staring at the glow and the flame, they sit in a circle, smoking clay pipes filled with tobacco that smells like peat. Their once restless souls have taken on the patient nature of the earth; their vaporous eyes that of the eternal rain. Wraith limbs with twig fingers hold, some, earthenware mugs recently emptied, others, heavy iron revolvers, not a bit rusty, recently oiled. Robed in long coats made of flags, they are transported to their visitations on cloud carpets woven from stream-bank grasses and the hair of women.
It is Valentine’s Day eve at last, so let’s break out the bags and boxes and crates of dark chocolate early, let us pre-induce those atrial flutters and dis-syncopated arrhythmias that mimic the pop-song physiology of love at first site…”Well my heart went zoom when she crossed that room…” and… “Zing! went the strings of my heart…” Hearts that skip beats, hearts that stand still, hearts pierced with short, fletched, sharp darts shot by air-borne winged new-borns (whose images rarely show them smiling…what’s up with that?). Bring on the chocolate; let us handle (heartle?) the chocolate of another Valentine’s Day!
Always on the look-out for lucrative, cash-generating opportunities, Entrepreneur Man awakens to the brilliant notion of offering his services as a ghost writer to those 100 Words members whose busy important lives, filled with meaningful selfless service leave them no time for narcissistic nattering. Ah, how the dollars will roll in! First, there must be a business card, with a catchy business name…hmm, how about “The Most Ghost Money can Buy”…No, too long and too unclear about the purpose of the business. Try again…”Liar for Hire”…Ah, there we go, I like that. Will make a great website as well. www.Liarforhire.com.
As he turned away from the open refrigerator, the solid angularity of the milk carton in his hand, his mind suddenly stopped. Stopped as abruptly, with all the instantly new clarity of the moment, as a paused DVD. Instantly he felt the weight and presence of the milk carton, how the liquid and the container each contributed differently to the total heft. In the same instant he knew the truth of his finger muscles curling around the door handle. Solidity rolled down his back and rooted his feet. “Alive” was, for that moment, freed from the cage of the conceptual.
Overheard on the Quad: “They had a good season last year…lots of snow, lots of skiers, an early start.” “Right…this year the same. At least the start. Those sweet powder days in December and on through the New Year…they were excellent.” “ So, I heard the new lifts and whatever they’re doing to the lodge and all that, that’s gonna run about ten million. So I guess they must be doing alright.” “Right…saw that ten million number in the paper this morning.” “Yeah, they had it on the web site yesterday.” “Hey…here we are…have a good day.” “You too, man.”
The sun emerged for a brief spell this afternoon. The air warmed up; bare patches appeared on the garden path, where I had shoveled it clear all winter. The warmth softened the layers of ice veining the compost pile, allowing me to take a pitchfork and collapse the pile down to a cube-shaped mass half the height of the frozen pyramid it had been. For the last few weeks, scraps tossed on the pile refused to balance on the tip of the frozen cone and simply avalanched down its steeply sloping sides. Today the pile sports a wide flat top.
There is a mist of sawdust drifting in the shop; the bandsaw makes powdery tracks slicing old pine lath into odd jigsaw puzzle shapes. This is an activity free of irony. The pieces will be assembled into a picture with no sarcastic intent, no intent to inform, correct, chide, direct, influence or barely even entertain. It’s just a picture of something that interests me. Outside the shop, a mist of snow, more air than flake, settles over everything like a fine dust, settling with no intention or design, altering the shapes and colors of everything for no reason at all.
The wolves are back. The repopulation efforts have paid off with numbers even the most die-hard wolf lover dared not dream of. Much more than anticipated. The central mountains now echo with the howls (“song”) of numerous packs. Livestock and game animals are prey for the wolves while they themselves are without predators. Snowflakes hang up on the tips of fur hairs, shining like cold stars. The snowfall intensifies; the snow eventually forms a second fur. Muzzle on paws, head low to the frozen ground, still as death, only the eyes move, burning lights of the wolf in the snow.
Life is short, life is short, life is short, life is short, life is short. I could say it until it added up to a hundred words, or I could say it a hundred times, and still I wouldn’t convince myself. The way it really feels is that each moment lingers, rings, echoes in memory, in momoree, rippling outward in anticipations and backwards in pride and regret. Life is a disturbance in the Time Pond. What is now proves what was and fuels what comes next. Life may be short, but then again, and then and then and then again.
Fresh snow, fresh snow, fresh snow! The first substantial new covering of the white stuff in nearly a month. Three hours spent on the adult playground, boardin’ dem blues away. On and off, the sun lit up the world and on and off flurries softened it. Not too cold, not really any wind, the snow more like silk rather than feathers, all good, all good. The lifts had been shut down yesterday due to high winds that came with the storm, so by mid-morning there were lines at every lift, lines of stick-footed ravenous snow-feeders looking for a solid meal.
Overheard while doing crunches on the abs bench, facing the ceiling with, in my peripheral vision the flickering rainbow of some late afternoon TV game show where people have to answer such trivia as “When Ilsa left her beloved Rick in Casablance, for what city was she headed?”, followed by 4 choices: “So, after that, and by now it’s the end of a really long day, we had to prep and bag 192 servings of popcorn. Now that job nearly drove me nuts…after 15 minutes I wanted to walk out.” Exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale for two sets of thirty crunches.
The key is to ride low, ever lower. To keep the knees always flexed, to use the legs sometimes as pistons and sometimes as shock absorbers and to keep the eyes focused on the line ahead and not on the spot where you are. And trying to see where you have been is a really, really bad idea and certain to result in sudden suffering. Keep the spine stacked and pretend your hands are on the grips of a motorcycle handlebar. The word “kneel” is made up almost entirely of the word “knee.” Think on that and bend your knees.
Cross-cut, rip, bevel, drill, prepare to turn. Before, after, in between, clean, haul wood, do crossword puzzle and Jumble and play another Free Cell and wish there were more chocolate in the house. Overheard in my head: “Straw bale, short log or stackwood?” “But, conventional is quicker.” “Sure, but what about insulation and heating?” “Yeah, what about it? A role of glass batting unrolls a lot faster then felling, bucking, barking, hauling and hewing logs!” It’s a pointless discussion, engaged in more for the soothing security of wandering through known territory. Back to the lathe; prepare to turn coat pegs.
It required no effort to avoid the Academy Awards this year. So many reasons to rather sit peacefully with the snow settling on the hemlocks while I kept the woodstove stoked and read the funny papers. Family bashing and America bashing are OK unless you like your family and respect America for declaring that life, liberty and happiness are reasons enough to start a country. I shoveled snow, turned coat pegs and read the funnies, and counted myself more fortunate not only for the choices I made today, but also for the liberty to make myself happy by so choosing.
Now let us consider the word “yester’, or maybe it is not even a complete word, I am not sure. I could get up from the coach and look in the big red dictionary with the really small jet-black type on the light-weight paper pages, or I could Google it, but instead I think I will just sit here and roll it round on my brain like an MM on my tongue and patently dissolve the outer shell, then enjoy the little hit of chocolate flavor that rewards waiting while time passes. Yester day, Yester year, Yester moment, Yester instant.
Today I heard one friend say, “I hope it snows hard all week. We need a good powder layer; bring on the freshies! He said this while he was riding a high-speed quad ski lift. A few hours later, now off the hill, out of the flurries and back at the office in town, another friend said, “ I wish this endless winter would finally be done. I can’t wait for spring.” Later, at home, I see the cat sprawled on the rug in front of the woodstove and I suspect she is free from the fever of making wishes.
The snow has returned. Above 3500 feet there has fallen a foot and a half of light fluff in the last 24 hours, two-thirds of that just overnight. Snow has a way of drawing one’s attention in to the local and the personal. The world one hears about on the radio, reads about in the newspapers and sees on the TV seems somehow less real when the next ice age appears imminent. The cold and the snow are immediate realities that require immediate responses; No think-tanks or state departments required; winter is not a concept, a theory or a policy.
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