Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snow, Heart-ache and Obliteration

Today was a Monday morning road trip the fifty miles back from where I was selling art in a lakeless peat land hushed with snow. Since yesterday evening's approach you could suspect the arrival of more snow as the skies became ever more a mirror of opaque white meadows stretching alongside the route. Snow had not fallen in the night but by this morning had knit a ceiling over the region, without much more than the odd zooming flake past my windshield.
I wonder if times develop for all single people when their singleness, relished sometimes just after they've taken their leave of others, and savored out of a notion of personal freedom that we feel the married have sacrificed, intensifies into heart-ache again every bit as it was when we were lonely teenagers. We see we have to make some effort to re-adjust to the single state since we find ourselves cut off by a sudden bundle of circumstances, even though this is the age of instant wireless communication. Weather and scenery can promote this effort in one way for one person, another way for another. If we love many people now and cherish others from our past, and anticipate reuniting with at least some of these favorite folk, we can hope the loneliness abates much the way the snows of this current winter--a much more traditional northland winter than the past several--decline in the grip of thaws and near-thaws as the sun strengthens toward spring.

Driving this straight road across written-off miles of boreal bog lands all fused with white over black needles I'm reminded of the 20th-century American writer Conrad Aiken's short story Silent Snow Secret Snow, which must have been included in several of my old English class anthologies back in the long-ago 1970s. Made into a movie as well, the story describes a boy losing awareness of his schoolmates and parents around him as imaginary snow fills itself in over floor and furniture in the classroom and in his home, till there is nothing he chooses to know but his contentment with his surroundings all whitened and buried. The reader knows it's a disease process, with the boy named Paul, aged twelve, outraged in a confrontation by the doctor and his parents; he flees to his bed where the snow fantasy can prevail over anyone's intrusion. This morning I'm drawing on dim memory of snow majesty from that boy's private perspective.

I think I know from long ago the anticipation of snow as a protection and cloak and gathering for light. When I was a child I'd hanker for snow weeks and months before we'd get any, and I savored how it unified all the odd-colored, odd-textured surfaces surrounding where we lived.

A take-over and white-out by low snow clouds happened to me in early 2010 as I was returning from Ely, Minnesota to the Twin Cities via Two Harbors, where a squadron of long-tailed ducks had been reported by local birders. It took me little time using the spotting scope to zero in on the flock cavorting on Lake Superior's waves. The ducks were white-garbed with dark side patterning to their faces, dark wings sunken in white, and black, ornamental tails spiking upward. Over the birds diving and bowing bill to bill in rituals of courtship moved the snow squall, swiftly denser and denser till every individual was erased in a momentary blizzard. Their calls were surprisingly like the voices of elderly women seized by hilarity, bearing witness to the politically-incorrect name of 'oldsquaw' now replaced by 'long-tailed duck.' It seems to me that the flock was on the wing, crossing down-lake, as I left the scene marveling at how quickly a definitive sighting had faded into a listening-fest wrapped in flickering white.

It was my wish to express a sort of ultimate conviviality, given out by the ducks, upon a background of lostness and disintegration, a whole atmosphere of snow, vapor and liquid. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In the Manner of Wildcats

An old girl and an older boy are treading ice and snow and relishing the frozen sun along a frozen road in February, one wearing mukluks with leather and gum soles treading as softly as socks, one in hard-soled boots. The friends have hardly set forth in the sunlit silence when he says--Wolf! Look! There's an animal hunkered on the road many yards or meters ahead. It's not a wolf, despite initial expectations, but a cat, not moving except to turn its head as the couple approach twenty paces or so at a time, stopping always to gain a better view in their binoculars. The creature is crouched in the posture of a cat on a window ledge, mostly facing the outer side of the road, chin tucked in a manner suggesting sleep, but sometimes turning to gaze at the human forms easing forward in stages side by side.

He says he saw that the cat walked clumsily before it came to rest in that spot and seems like it might be sick. She says she has always hoped to see one of the wild cats but never has yet, and this one is looking more and more like a bobcat. The tail, which is stumpy, would be black-tipped all the way around if the creature were a lynx, but just black-tipped on the outer side if bobcat. But why would this richly-colored cat, reddish along the sides but darkening blacker along the spine, bob-tailed since no tail shows, be so trusting, waiting or dozing in a road while two people approach like stalkers? The animal can't stay there much longer, he conjectures. Then suddenly, on the margin to the right, is a second bobcat, much browner like pale milk chocolate. The crouched cat rises and the tail flicks--definitely bobcat, not lynx. Oh, this is a scene about mating, oh of course that's what's going on...

A pickup truck rolls into view around the bend, the young guy driving smiling at the older couple as he passes as if to say sorry I scared your animals, each of which has cleared the scene in a routine bound into the cedars on the same side of the road. But the man says let's stay here watching, they may be back--and he is so right! they are, they're in a stand-off with one cat on the road again, the other alongside in the saplings. The blacker cat's hindquarters are sinking barely perceptibly into a sit-down, the slowness exquisite with all that it may be expressing of both confidence and fear. The thought comes to the old girl's mind: haven't I seen cats in a yard someplace I have lived, doing this?

In the mind's eye it is more a state of being than of doing; the cats are live imagery, a vivid painting from out of the present, future and past. The cats, like remembered cecropia moths fresh from a cocoon, are central, and time in which they're embedded appears to have stopped, and the sun's afternoon course and the distant approach of spring too. We Are and They Are, the man and woman both know, though in the time before the cats' re-emergence the woman has been able to sit down on the road and pull on a second pair of socks to warm up her cold feet. 

In retrospect the dark, most beautiful cat on the road may have been the female, in heat, though that's guessing. Surely the mature couple themselves, back at home base again, feel themselves like the wild cats to be legged and deliberate, full of body language, aware at least some of the time of their placement in relation to each along the road as they walked back to their parked vehicle in temperatures of single-digits F.

Most significantly, in paused time two bobcats were free to claim a road created for cars and trucks and use it for their own, unhurt, observed in their rituals by humans whose distance, even from so near, was enough. My art like all art, foolishly and everlastingly, says: let this moment in this dark tree entanglement stand for all time, though forests change and go away not always at our own hands, and so do we, and yet when our excessive strength and numbers have done their worst upon the land maybe the beasts and infrequent birds, relegated to far edges, will be back as masters of their former realm; something like this has been seen to happen in miniature in modern central Europe, due in major part to warfare...