December thirteenth. North Carolina. I hear a tree frog click. Fire crack. The same dog over and over. A layered silhouette of trees against tees misled me into thinking I can glimpse the shape of the gully in front of me. Hard wooded. Known to house turkeys. One fat cornfed squirrel.
I blame the calendar for most problems. They make it too easy to wait. The calendar always made me late. Mark one a holy day. People sacrifice hundreds of others preparing for it. Marking them off as they get in their way. Weak days.
With seasons, on the other hand, we are ahead of the game. Like tonight. It isn’t even winter yet. And already, it’s spring.
The cold descended so low last night it touched the grass and turned it white. In some places, soil has spat up phlegmy streams of ice like tiny fireworks frozen in place. If you’ve ever stepped on a bed of broken glass you know the feeling of walking on frozen ground. Only pines cling summer green, and it has turned the horizon eerily into prison bars, the nakedness of hardwood trees. I absolutely know someone dressed up in all the colors of mother nature’s vomit is sitting somewhere they’re not supposed to with a gun staring through their foggy breath and only hearing squirrels. Camouflage fools intelligence, but blares out loud to wisdom bright as blazon orange. More men and women than one could ever imagine have been sentenced to hell by a jury of furry woodland critters. Laid belly up guts exposed in the dead center of a hot country road paved with the asphalt of all your worst decisions. I look out across the early morning, late December scene, ice poised on the precipice of muck, and see many things where others say they don’t see much. Wooden towers untouched by carpenters taller than any of the two stories downtown. A man I don’t recognize weighed the cold against a lit cigarette unworthy. Two cats, three kittens. One solid vein of sunlight spiderweb woven between all the eastern trees. I don’t know who you have to be to look out at such scenes and read the story of eternity. I know you can’t stop once you do. I know something of the nature of truth.
There really is no clearer demonstration of how rare it is to call something beautiful
that isn’t also dangerous. One of those unique instances nowadays
that’s impossible to argue with. I mean, look up. It’s that same cluttered,
pupil-shrinking prism for all of us. Weather.
And we fall under it.
What does that tell us?
The tilt of our wonderfully imperfect earth. The pull of the moon, pulled like a rib
from the belly of our world. The storied soil we work on and eat from and take on
yet cry and bemoan any opportunity or demand to give back. Which is inevitable.
It disrespects the dead to fear death this much.
That’s what winter is for. Every year, for a month, or a few, our planet tries to bury us.
Freeze us out. Toughen us up. Shed old leaves and dream and make plans for spring
staring longingly into fires as we listen for kettles to whistle
more eager than dogs do for dinner bells.
Wheels are not really ideal for snow.
Clothing becomes a form of shelter. As much home as one can carry worn like armor.
It can be the difference between a good day and that one day. Extra gloves. Dry socks.
Nature Valley bar. Lukewarm coffee.
It really is the little things that separate being outdoors from hell on earth.
Come equipped. Be stubborn about it. Dress in layers. Prepare for change.
A good nickname for winter. Change. Different.
Roll with the punches off a rolling earth.
Be buried up in ice and frozen rain and dig a way out.
By the shovelful. Claw with bare hands if you have to.
A pretty titanic lesson that’s been working on me over the past year.
Which events of life am I truly willing to let deter me. Cold? Rain? Snow?
Were these elements not in the forecast when I set my plans. My intentions.
Yes. Of course they were.
These seasons have been forecast for millennia.
Put your boots on and play in them. Shovel out the drive and go adventuring.
Leave some tracks in something that was pristine when you first got there.
Perfect. Clean. And powder. Like paper. Put a story in it.
The greatest form of flattery is imitation.
So show winter it is not the only one of us who is willing to change.
Say to the earth, this is how I roll.
I, like you, stop for nothing.
White fields framed by nighttime trees. And city orange.
Awash in fluorescent yellow. Eyes can leap where feet will never go.
And leave oval footsteps in undriven snow. Covering many miles though.
Eyes begin to tread slow. Chug like four engines no lack of motive through frozen scenes.
Ice lined creeks and snow buried streams.
A pond any old sinner could walk on.
Stalked by great fractured double u’s formed of flocks of geese.
The hungry sound made by their thousands of beaks and wings.
Throats like hard rubber.
Navy blue cap pulled down over ears pierced by studded stars.
And that great gauged bone colored earlobe of a moon.
At the outset of winter. Seems the sun gets snuffed too soon.
Makes street lights sparkle embers on the ends of extinguished wicks.
A trickle of waxy smoke in our breath.
Town lights go on as far as eyes can see.
And stars. And snow fields. Stuck ponds.
And dark clouds that honk loud as cars.
They go on much farther.
Miles past eyes can see.
When I write the word life, how much was written for me.
Gripping a bird feeder beyond clear barriers.
Moan yodeling in the corner forming soon-to-be hairballs.
Bare skull bearing antlers on a woodpile outside.
Deer turning up white in search of dirty green.
When I write the word life, I say the word why.
Then wiggle my hand until a pen gives me my answer.
Eat breakfast through my eyes and give time like spent breath.
Like carefree charity. Trash to me. Treasure to the tree.
New York timber living gnarled and surrounded
by their crumbling attempts at winter.
Which up here means more.
Apologies. Useless light switches.
Four families fourth floor apartment.
Generators hooked up to water heaters.
People choking in their homes for a hot shower.
Much by way of means.
Just no power.
Do not write about the scar on the back of your hand.
They would not understand. You stoned,
rolling corn in the oven, sat there on a coil
long enough to smile up at you while
you write for the rest of your life.
Right handed and it means far more than pen to paper.
The ears through which you hear planted kernels last year,
just listening. Cellulose between your teeth. No butter.
Better dryer and raw. Right off of the stalk.
Do not get lost writing on corn.
Or on scars earned cooking it for dinner.
When you could write about this winter.
Or imagine all the scars to come.