Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter's prequel

The Winter Solstice (December 21) is more than a month away. Thirty-nine days if you want to count. This morning's temperatures were in the teens. The extended forecast doesn't call for temperatures to return to the forties until November 21. I hope so, or else this may be a lonngg Winter.

At the beginning of this week, the Sunrise River channel through the nearby pools in Carlos Avery was open water. No more. Now it looks quite a bit like this. I suspect any geese still in the neighborhood have moved to Forest Lake or other open waters. As the geese move out, juncoes are moving into the neighborhood for the Winter. They hop around the deck, checking out the mess the goldfinches, chick-a-dees and nuthatches make at the feeder. [UPDATE: today the first purple finch of the season showed up at the feeder.] Lets see, freeze up underway; snow cover in place, daily high temperature below freezing but neither astrological nor meteorological Winter has started yet. Sigh!


Photo by J. Harrington

I know that many Minnesotan's relish this weather. I saw my first snowmobile of the season yesterday. For the rest of us, though, remember how Shelley ended his Ode to the West Wind: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" There, doesn't that make you feel better? No? Well, try this.

If you're not into collecting frost bite, there's lots of books to put on your Christmas list or check out of your local library. I'm looking forward to reading Rebecca Solnit's latest book of essays, my growing interest in lyrical essays and flash nonfiction probably means I'll be re-reading Terry Tempest Williams' When Women Were Birds and Amy Leach's Things That Are. The first time I read each of these latter collections, I read for substance. This time I'm going to focus on craft, like learning the craft of splitting logs.

Wood

By Reginald Gibbons 

for Maxine Kumin 

A cylinder of maple
set in place, feet spread apart—
and the heavy maul, fat as a hammer   
but honed like an axe, draws   
a semicircle overhead and strikes   
through the two new halves   
to leave the steel head sunk   
a half-inch in the block and the ash   
handle rigid in the air.
A smack of the palm, gripping as it hits   
the butt end, and the blade   
rolls out of the cut. The half-logs   
are still rocking on the flagstones.

So much less than what we have been   
persuaded to dream, this necessity for wood   
might have sufficed, but it is what   
we have been taught to disown and forget.   
Yet just such hardship is what saves.   
For if the stacked cords
speak of felled trees, of countless
five-foot logs flipped end over end downhill   
till the blood is wrung from your back   
and snowbound warmth must seem   
so far off you would rather freeze,

yet each thin tongue torn from the grain   
when log-halves were sundered at one stroke   
will sing in the stove.
To remind you of hands. Of how
mere touch is song in the silence
where hands live—the song of muddy bark,
the song of sawdust like cornmeal and down,   
and the song of one hand over another,   
two of us holding the last length of the log   
in the sawbuck as inches away the chainsaw   
keeps ripping through hickory. 


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