Tag Archives: cold

The Plain Sense of Things

THE PLAIN SENSE OF THINGS

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

-Wallace Stevens

By Oksana Berda

The most wintry Christmastime.

Last night, before the snow and piercing wind arrived, and after the children had gone to bed, the two men decided to take a walk, with the thermometer showing 3 degrees. They bundled up to the max, and set out with beers in hand, just for the fun of it. I turned in before they got back, but this morning they said it had been a fine outing.

I’ve arrived in Colorado at the home of my son “Soldier” and his family. Kate and her family are also here, which adds up to six grandchildren, four parents and one grandma. We knew it was going to get very cold, especially today, so we went on our outings the days before.

First a trip to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where before we took in a planetarium show, we looked at statues of historic airplanes, and one uncle set the older boys to racing.

In the evening yesterday we all went caroling in the neighborhood. The thermometer was dropping fast toward zero, so we started out at dusk and sang at several houses in the neighborhood, where at least two people came out and stood to listen to us, in spite of the frosty air. Joy had baked sugar cookies, springerle and gingerbread men, and we had an all-family session decorating the sugar cookies, which she added to boxes for certain neighbors.

Kate’s and Soldier’s families haven’t ever lived close enough to each other for the cousins to know each other. The four-, five- and six-year-olds have especially enjoyed each other. All the kids received matching pajamas at their first bedtime together, which provided a lot of fun. They were all happy!

This morning when I woke it was -16. I understand that the middle regions of the nation generally are experiencing similarly extreme weather; many of you have your own stories to tell. In the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains where we are, it’s fairly dry at 7,300 ft elevation, but more snow did fall and added to what was lingering.

It’s really fun to participate in all the lively activities that I didn’t have to plan or prepare for, and even just to watch the other groupings playing chess, making decorations, building with magnatiles, assembling a jigsaw puzzle or practicing their drawing skills together. Of course we have been doing a lot of reading aloud, and all the children watched “The Snowman” video with Grandma.

Decades ago I helped my children to do a “baby-Jesus-in-walnut-shell” craft, and this  week Joy had all the ingredients for a new and improved version, which all the children enjoyed immensely.

Soldier baked a new kind of cookie for Christmas this year, a flourless meringue with figs, orange zest and almond paste, which are fantastic. I’m planning to bake them myself and I will share the recipe.

Many more fun and Christmasy things are planned in the next few days, which I hope to tell about here, but I wanted to put up this post on the coldest day I’ve ever known.

Where the breath condenses.

INSIDE

I am my own
geology, strata on strata
of the imagination, tufa
dreams, the limestone mind
honeycombed by the running away
of too much thought. Examine
me, tap with your words’
hammer, awaken memories
of fire. It is so long
since I cooled. Inside me,
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It
is where I think.

-R.S. Thomas

I began to read a biography of R.S. Thomas a while back. Its tone was unsympathetic, and as with many biographies of writers, it didn’t facilitate my relationship with the poet. With Thomas, if you want to be any kind of friend, you have to accept his particular “geology,” which is full of rocks and stones and cold clouds, all waiting for that day when the sun will shine fully on the landscape, burn off the fog, and never set again. I am content to wait with him, and not to try to “figure him out” in this life.

Where I grew up our winters frequently featured cold fog. Foggy days such as I actually enjoy on the beach nearest me, when the thermometer stays above 50, are way different from the 27-degree tule fog of my youth, which can hang on and chill the spirit all day.

Thomas seems to be saying that those few people who stumble into his inside, where he thinks, will not find a comfortable  place to rest. It’s a place without location, somehow. Whatever can be felt with the senses, it’s cold and cramped. There is little solace in abstract truth.

Even the request, “Examine me… tap… awaken memories of fire” refers to something of the mind: memories. But if this is a prayer, the real God who is not a memory or an idea, but is the only one who has Being in Himself, might come and be present in the present. Not just to revive memories of past events, but to create actual warmth and spaciousness in the soul. He has been called a consuming fire, and the Sun of Righteousness. He is definitely what the wintry and frozen soul needs.

“But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
And you will go out and leap like calves
released from the stall.”

Malachi 4:2

If peas could talk.

In this era, I keep an eye on the coastal weather forecast more than the local, trying to plan well ahead so as to increase my chances of getting out there to the edge of the Pacific — aiming for several times a month.

Last week about this time I noticed that there was going to be rain nearly every day upcoming, except for one, so I penciled in my outing for Monday. I did notice that it was forecast to be windy, and I researched a little bit about just how 20-24 mph winds feel. I couldn’t remember the stats on what I’d experienced in the past. It didn’t sound too foreboding, so I dressed in layers with a windbreaker, and off I went.

Did I tell you I have been reading The Aviator by Eugene Vodolazkin? I have the audio as well as the print format. The possibility of sinking into that book makes me look forward to any longer drive to anywhere. I can’t concentrate on a book, lecture, etc. while doing anything else at home; even while driving, I can only attend well while following a familiar route. I make frequent use of the rewind button (Is there another word for that now that there is no actual winding involved?), including at times when I have to concentrate more, as at an intersection, and briefly lose the thread of the story.

The weather at the beach was a blast. The clumps of grass on the dunes were beautiful, the way they waved in the wind. But, “This is not fun,” was the phrase that popped into my mind about three minutes after I reached the water’s edge, where the sand at least was not flying; my head had began to pound, and my eyes were burning, but I pushed against that blast toward the tidepools that I knew would have been exposed.

The wind was helping the waves up the beach, where they were allowed to break, but not to recede. The wind whipped them to make them lie on the sand a few more seconds than was their natural will; I could tell they were not happy about it, because they weren’t lying there quietly. Gusts attacked them over and over,  yanking pieces of foam off their edges and blowing them off. The puffs scattered wildly, like sudden orphans. Their wails couldn’t be heard above those of their abuser. The sun shone brightly.

I had purposely chosen mid-afternoon for my visit, because there was going to be a minus tide, and I’ve noticed those seem to occur mostly in the middle of the night. This week there were three of them that would happen before dark.

But I was beginning to foresee that stumbling around the rocks looking for anemones, in my quickly cooling bare feet, would also not be that much fun. I turned around, and my time on the beach was shorter than usual, but I was glad I had tried the experiment.

I have been reading so many books lately that include elements of great hardship and suffering, it would not feel right if I did not push myself at least a little, and endure some amount of discomfort. Not only do I have my literary characters as examples in this, but I have fellow blogger Mags who is snow-swimming this month, in the seas of Northern Ireland! This kind of effort, when you do it voluntarily, with the knowledge that you can be home and cozy soon afterward, can be exhilarating. The experience of a Soviet labor camp, on the other hand, one doesn’t volunteer for. Just today I read more of The Aviator‘s protagonist Innokenty’s musings on it, years later:

“Well, what kind of description can convey round-the-clock coldness? Or hunger? Any story implies a completed event but there is a dreadful eternity here. You cannot warm up for an hour, or two or three or ten. It is impossible, after all, to accustom oneself to either hunger or cold.”

My garden suffered what may be the worst cold it will have to endure this winter, just two days ago. I know it was several degrees of frost — and this area has had a winter or two in the last decades without even one freeze; it rarely gets down to 20 degrees. By the time that morning’s weather test occurred, I had been doing my own trials of the new greenhouse equipment, necessitating a few emergency visits in my nightgown at 2:00 or 3:00 a.m., to adjust the thermostat. So everything was okay in there. And you know, collards get sweeter by suffering frost.

But the next day, it was the wind that hit here, and this morning I found that it had grabbed the 4-foot snow pea vines off their trellises and thrown them to the ground, to be pelted by rain. I won’t expose their humiliation in pictures. The collapsed garden umbrella was torn off its vanes, too, the wind getting hold at the top where the sun had weakened the canvas in the last five years, to make a big hole there for starters.

It looks like we will have a few more days of rain, but no high winds are in the forecast. I am almost always comfortable, having warm clothes and fire and a gas furnace. My life is easy, for sure. If peas could talk, their story would doubtless be different.