Sunday, January 30, 2011

1.27 Icicles Bar My Window

‘Snew? Snow. Snow what?
New snow swallows our driveway
Now our car’s snowhere

Found art: A completely smooth-surfaced snow sculpture, with shapely flowing lines rising to a rounded summit like an old mountain, something in the Appalachians. Somebody, or something, has fashioned a terra-formed geological formation in our driveway. It was a very cold night to work. Nothing out there, as far as I could imagine, except the wind. And the snow, the medium, the wind could work with.
Found art: now I have to find my car.
After the storm blows through, fast but very efficient – according to reports dropping several inches of snow per hour – the sun came out and we had a nice morning for shoveling. It wasn’t heavy wet snow. But it had a heft to it, and it had filled all the empty places cleared since the last storm – just about a week before – so in between the banks something more than a foot of fresh snow filled the stairs, the walks, the sidewalks, the driveway. Even in these modest dimensions it was tiring work.
I didn’t want to drive anywhere, because I couldn’t imagine how there would be anywhere to park once you got somewhere, so I left the car untouched.
Later I went out and took photos of the back garden and the icicles forming from the roof, growing along the side of the house, and extending over the outside of the window in this room. They kept growing for another day until it appeared I would have a parallel series of icy bars covering the window, and could only hope that the sun would penetrate threw the silvery translucence of ice to bring me news of the outside world. Was there a squirrel in the tree? Doing what? Birds? Neighbor activity on the large snow ridge erected next door by shovel for sledding opportunities.
Late Friday afternoon, after a much warmer day, my bars let go with a thundering crash.
I kind of miss them. Maybe icicles are winter flowers, growing in their-short lived season. Growing in airy minerals – air, water, sun, gravity. They grow down, not up. When they have unfolded to the full potential these circumstances permit, their glassy, elongated, tapered, pointy, perilous blooms come crashing down.
Snow still lies thick on the roof. Sun still melts. They’ll be back.

When Ice Flowers Fall, Watch Out

Ice blooms in winter
Glassy forms descend like bars
sealing my window

1.20 More Snow Coming

The blue snow of twilight.
The silence of the snow day. Snow falling, nothing moving.
Above a snow-filled landscape another beautiful blue twilight… pink on the horizon… light welling up from the snowy yards and banks.
On my daughter’s Beirut balcony, the olive tree grows new leaves.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

1.17 Trees Under Ice

January: a poem

More snow-scape today
The world is so beautiful
And I am so cold

So the second blizzard of the season, the first January storm, was a wicked northeaster coming up from the South, of all places, and hitting us with a wet blast that accumulated fewer inches than predicted, but turned to ice too fast to melt. The snow was so wet and heavy, and followed so quickly by cold air that the thick coatings of frozen white coating – you can’t call it snow – are still hanging on tree limbs and trunks and signposts, the tops of shrubs, and the sides of buildings almost a week later. “Clunk,” you hear, standing outdoors, if you dare, and an ice cube falling off a branch lands at your foot. In downtown Boston they put signs outside buildings warning you against falling ice. Solid ice cubes dropping great distances are solid dangerous – but are you supposed to do?
It looks like ice cotton. Clumping onto surfaces, and hanging. Fingers too cold to pick it.
It sits so heavily on the tall maiden grass in the front garden, the queen of that garden portion’s “winter interest,” that I’m not sure when, or even if, the long limbs of bronzed grasses will fly their feathery flags again this season.
I’ve surrendered the outdoors for all but fast-tromping hikes, and am less interested in the conditions of plants than the condition of my toes.
We go walking in the Arnold Arboretum over the Martin Luther King Day weekend. Three days after the heavy-snow blizzard, the tree park is a surrealist landscape, snow blanketing all storm-facing planes of the fine-grown specimen trees. Over fifty percent of these exposed surfaces still show a thick snowy veneer in some quarters. We hike up hill and down through the park, find side paths where small parties of cross country skiers are working their way down while we climb in their tracks upwards.
The storm has also brought down limbs from some trees, including some varieties we have admired before (whose identifies I can’t find because the snow has covered their nametags). Back home, we don’t seem to be suffering any damage to the woodier plants. But the sub-freezing days that followed the storm has turned so much wet snow to ice that I’m afraid to walk around for a closer look. Who knows what I’m stepping on.
Every evening, though, the sunset and twilight reflections off frozen white surfaces are stunning. Sun too weak to melt. Sun enough to dazzle.

Ice Light: a poem

Reflections off a frozen field
Sun too weak to melt
Sun enough to dazzle

Tuesday morning snow falls again. Fat fluffy flakes cover the frozen, chunky surface, making the surfaces more beautiful. The temperature is still a few degrees below freezing, so I think maybe it will last.
But the predicted rain comes in the afternoon. All of the new snow turns to slush. What if these wet slushy puddles freeze again tonight? What will that do to the plants below?
Every year, every season, is a living laboratory for the world outside my window.

Monday, January 17, 2011

1.10 Why Am I Wasting a Tree?

This year I’m wondering why there are all those six-foot evergreens suddenly sticking up in the roadside snow banks. Oh, right. We’re throwing them out.
Does this make sense?
It doesn’t make sense to me, and I’m one of the people who’s doing it.
We’ve always had live Christmas trees. When I was growing up, my parents had live trees until the kids grew up, and then my mother didn’t want the bother of vacuuming up the fallen needles so they switched to an artificial tree. Not me. We’ve had the “real thing” for 30 years. Now I’m realizing that following the natural path means that I’m artificially shortening the life of a healthy tree. Isn’t there something wrong with throwing away trees?
My response to this ah-ha moment is a strong desire to dig a hole in the frozen earth of the garden, stick the sawn-off trunk in the ground and make believe it will grow. But then I have a tendency to respond to real problems with fantasy solutions.
Okay, assuming we don’t want to give up the pagan custom of decorating a living tree inside our homes as a Christmas holiday ritual, let’s pretend for real. The ritual might be better with a druid to preside and a small party of dancing elves to liven up the ceremony, but I like the tradition of digging out the old boxes of “ornaments” which are not used to “ornament” anything else in the house at any other time of year, but for a few weeks every year must dangle shiningly from the many branches of an adolescent evergreen which believed it was still just putting down roots, branching out, and reaching for the stars. Well, no, the star was our department too.
Still, despite cutting short the natural aspirations of a perfectly good tree, we like the whole business and don’t want to give it up. So how to make the best of it? Assuming the custom came from Northern European cultures which abounded in forests of evergreens, how did these people dispose of their winter solstice holiday ritual trees? I have to believe the trunk ended up in the firewood pile, even if they waited a year for the wood to dry before they threw it in the fireplace.
Maybe they also knew which of their plants benefited from the acidic foliage of the leaves and chopped off the branches with an edged tool – stone, if they didn’t have a metal edge – and tossed them on the berry plants.
I suppose we can follow suit…
But I have social engineering fantasies too. We’re supposed to be planting trees, aren’t we, to take some of that excess carbon dioxide out of the air. Why doesn’t each municipality designate the planting field that could use some trees to hold the soil, slow erosion, soak up flood waters and serve as a wind break? Why don’t we all buy our trees dug up, instead of cut down, with a wrapped root ball below the trunk which we would insert into our suitably large Christmas tree planter – instead of a stand? And then, when the season is over and we want our living rooms back, why not remove the tree with its still-wrapped root ball, and carry it out to the DPW back-loader jammed with a neighborhood’s Christmas trees and ride down to the site to help plant them in the designated planting area?
Why not, as it were, “borrow” our Christmas trees instead of executing them?
Do I think this is likely to happen? No, I don’t, for all the usual reasons, including the inconvenient truth that we almost always choose short-term comfort and convenience over long-term investment and effort. On these grounds, I would probably go for chopping off the branches for the blueberries and saving the trunk for a putative fence post.
But it would be nice if we could think of Christmas trees as living things rather than consumer products. The habit might grow until it extended to other trees, other plants, and then the earth we live on.
But not this year… When the post-holiday clean-up came, we put our tree out for the trash.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

12.22 Snow Fell

Snow fell and everything was beautiful.
Snow fell and it dusted the grassy places first, or the places where there were only weeds because nobody really owned them like the edges of the rumpled sidewalks where just a curbstone separated safety from the rule of the road. Snow fell, and then it began to pile like coarse sand on the raw asphalt of the sidewalk, or like sawdust piling up from the place where the carpenter powered through posts for a new house or addition.
A half hour later, long after I’d expected the slow flutter of random flakes to stop altogether and the world to go back to being plain, old, cold gray, the snow had begun to accumulate on the road in front of our house. And then the cars seemed to disappear altogether. There were usually a few parked round, here and there, belonging to whomever, but now the street seemed empty. It grew very quiet.
Snow fell, and I kept putting down my book and walking over to the front room window to watch it. It’s funny, because there really isn’t anything to watch, certainly not any action,. No people, no movement, no story line. Snow just falls, and maybe blows a little if a breeze comes up. This wasn’t a real storm; hardly any wind to speak of. And the fall itself wasn’t thick. The flakes were about as invisible as they could be. You didn’t really see any one of them. You saw instead a kind of wave in the air. A nearly invisible interruption of the space between you – and the world, whatever you were looking at. There were a couple of tire treads in the middle of the road, so some vehicle must have rolled through. Even as I stood by a window and watched the tread trail left behind by the tires gradually began to fill with the miniscule chaff of soft, tiny particles.
That was time, falling out there, I remembered thinking. An odd thing. Time passed, inside the house, inside myself, while I was reading or cleaning up my desk or standing in the kitchen thinking what to eat. But I couldn’t see it ordinarily. I couldn’t see the sands disappear from the hourglass.
Now looking through the eyes of the front room windows I could. Time was coming down. Accumulating, lying there in the road.
And as it did, things were changing. The world was turning from one thing to another.