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. 

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