Friday, February 25, 2011

A Mind Of Winter

The Snowman by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


When I was still living in NYC and a house in the country was but a mere fantasy, I had a subscription to a magazine called Country Living. It was a terrible magazine, I thought. Not well produced, and the style they promoted was mostly kitsch. I felt then that the unintentional country style often found in Martha Stewart Living was more the real deal and not put on. It's similar to street punks; you have the real street punks and then you have the white bread suburban kids who endeavor to dress and talk like street punks. All put on and not real. Anyway, that's mostly how I felt about that magazine. I cancelled it, but the magazines kept coming. Even after I moved to the country those magazines followed me. Maddening. There was one thing I liked about the magazine and it was a column written by a gal who lived in Iowa or Ohio, out on a farm in an antique farmhouse. Her writing was quite entertaining. Funny, but also real.

I have never forgotten one column in which she talked about winter. Winter was coming on where she lived and she talked about the coats and scarves and gloves and mittens and boots, and all the snow and the long dark nights and not so cheery days. She said one had to "be of a mind of winter" in order to endure the long country winters with some degree of enjoyment. I've never forgotten that column and have always promised myself, or threatened myself, that "come next winter, I'm going to be of a mind of winter." And then winter comes and I dread it. Yes, I know, I could have moved south of NYC, but I'm really of a Northeastern mind, even though I largely have a Southern sensibility. I don't know what any of that means, but it sounds good. Anyway, so here I am in the middle of what has been a long and difficult winter.

I haven't seen the ground for months. It has stayed so cold here that the first snow is still there, buried under all the other snows that have followed. On December 21st, the Winter Solstice, I started counting the days till Spring, and have kept my eyes trained on the late afternoon sky, searching for every little hint that the days were getting longer.  It's now late February and the only ground I see in my yard is the patch that is above my septic tank. My grass isn't greener over the septic tank, but the ground is certainly warmer. Last week we had a few days in the upper forties and I prayed that we were on our downward spiral into hot weather. Alas, the cold has returned as has the snow.

Of a mind of winter. Nowhere near. I think if my house had insulation and we weren't paying out the nose to heat the few rooms we're living in, I might be able to be of a mind of winter, actually enjoy bundling up to enjoy the cold and snow. We've actually cut our heating bills down by half by moving our bedrooms downstairs to the "second parlor" and "library", not heating the upstairs at all and keeping the two rooms we're sleeping in closed off with doors and blankets hanging in un-doored doorways. We're hoping and praying that are tax refund can help us insulate the attic floor ourselves, which, we are told will make a world of difference in keeping the heat from shooting out the roof. Something about a "chimney effect". Until then, we pinch pennies, hunker down and stay bundled up in robes and blankets and pray for an early spring.  

A Mind of Winter by Wallce Stevens

Silenced and sent outside
as if the world was a child
he wanted out of the room
the view from the window showed
only those cold thoughts
that tended to comply with white

a glaring region where his mind
took hold of trees and bent
their shoulders until they sighed
made them sag knee-deep
here and there like melted candles
stuck to a table in an empty house

and glowing like a pearl
placed a hard white sun low
in a windswept sky imagining his own
small face on a pillow in a new-made bed
then becoming one white quiet thing

draped thick blankets across his knees
so that the book he held
lightly in his hand was spread
open to a page where the icy
scene was set pitiless and horizontal

until his footprint gaping open in the snow
became a shape he no longer recognised
letting through a patch of green
and it was like a holiday
he'd been looking forward to for months
and a keyhole to the heart.