Sunday, January 12, 2014

Winter's Garden: A Spooky Night, Followed by Snow, Ice, Thunder and a High Probability of Weird






In the middle of the Dominican Republic a large lake is expanding its borders, swamping once valuable farm and pasture land. The government is building a new town  some distance away to replace one that will soon be rendered uninhabitable by the lake's rising waters.
            Compared to that -- to losing your home to rapid environmental change -- coping with changeable days in a northern hemisphere winter is surely no super biggie. Still, you know something happening, even if you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?

            Lately some days we have piles of snow, and then we don't any. Then we have really cold weather. Then a thaw. Then really cold weather again.

            Really cold by our standards at least. Below zero is no stranger to many parts of the United States, the upper-north central states and even northern New England. But here it is, knocking on the drafty door in balmy Quincy-by-the -moderating-influence-of-the-ocean -- for the first time in our nearly ten years here.

            There is something spooky about seeing the temperature drop below zero. A world that is deeply familiar -- the view from the front door, from various windows front back and side, the continual spying on the bird feeder from the kitchen window: the almost obsessively familiar points of view, as if place itself were part of the family; your piece of the world -- is no longer what it was. No longer yours.

            Around midnight on a sub-zero night that familiar world-view was no longer friendly. Some alien power has taken over. The house lost its accustomed warmth. One imagined the alien fingers of the super-cold slipping through the weak spots, the places where even on ordinary days the life-preserving "heat" leaks away. Window frames, window glass, the uninsulated basement, the tiny unseeable holes in the the building sheath of walls and roof that allow in tiny creatures, or their eggs, that give an old house its own subtle biosystem. (How do these things get in the house? But they do.)

            Somehow that night, it seemed, you could feel the heat draining from the house. You hear the furnace running. The radiators stay hot.

            The moon moves slowly into view from the proscribed kitchen window, where you go to peek anyway. (No opening the door tonight to stand on the porch and stare at the sky.) But the moon's face is turned away, its comfort gone, its inimical silence a frozen blanched color possessed by alien powers determined to freeze you out.

            Where is your power now, O, Sun?

            Where are your smiles, and gentle songs? Don't even bring up gentle breezes. The prospect of super-chilled wind curdles my blood.

            It's not just a cold night, it strikes me, it's a primal night. Earth and darkness are re-exploring their beginnings. We hope they will agree, in reasonably short order, to let life start over once again. A little light, a little cheer. A little warmth.

            I don't know how the birds, and the squirrels (who are part of the gang though we've had our differences) survive this kind of cold. The trees and other plants. Yes, during the deep-cold spells they look different, the leaves of the rhododendron curling under to preserve what moisture they still have. But a day or later they're over it.

            We go from nothing in a day and a half to forty. Then to fifty. Then more snow arrives. Then the world changes again, some weather god snaps his fingers and a foot of snow disappears in a single solar blink of a twenty-four hour period.

            Yesterday Anne and I went for a walk in a misty, fifty-ish afternoon and got caught in a thunderstorm. Lightning on the second Saturday of January. Does this mean spring is on the way? I don't think so.