What the snow reveals

snow on leaves

Despite preemptive school closings and dire warnings of Black Ice, only a dusting of snow fell here last night — not even enough to cover the ground. A good snow, glistening contentedly in the morning sun, reflecting the clean clear blue sky after the cold front, hides the mess we’ve made of the world and gives the illusion of purity, a new beginning — “a revolution of snow,” as Billy Collins writes:

its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished…
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.

But the world was already fallen, and Boris Pasternak thought the snow’s motives less than pure, seeing rather

That snow falls out of reticence,
In order to deceive.
Concealing unrepentantly
And trimming you in white

For Pasternak, indeed, snow may be nothing more than the Altoids on the breath of an alcoholic: Continue reading “What the snow reveals”

The turbulence that creates the beauty

From the high ridge the river is placid, dark, smooth, its motion undetectable except by implication of the muddy-pale passage my analytical self knows to be rapids. It winds through the landscape, around unperturbed boulders, past trees positioned as dramatic backdrop by unseen woodsman stagehands. A heron lifts off from some hidden cove and glides easily over the water, ages below me. If the river misses him it keeps its feelings to itself. Occasionally a spot of foam tossed up by turbulence twinkles in the sun, just to keep the viewer interested. Oh, it is beautiful, this placid unmoving scene. It is the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the mountain overlook, the window on the eighty-seventh floor. The beauty of landscape that renders us insignificant before its grandeur and yet also grants us power over it. We comprehend the landscape while seeing nothing of real importance. We look on it with the gaze of science, or of bureaucracy — broad, encompassing, staking authority while proclaiming modesty, underscoring the insignificance of our achievement. From here we are assured that the river runs smoothly on its course, an assurance we have granted ourselves by choosing to remain distant from it. A cold, uneasy beauty. Continue reading “The turbulence that creates the beauty”

Letting the flowers say it for themselves

I had to mow the grass today for the second time this year, an appalling side effect of global warming. (I know, I know: Entire countries are at risk of sinking beneath the ocean, and I’m complaining about mowing my grass an extra month of the year. It’s a first-world problem.) I didn’t think it looked all that bad — I could still see the tops of my shoes when I walked in it, and from my study window the dead nettle made a pretty sort of fuchsia haze over the yard — but with a reel mower you can’t let it get too long, and so I took my lunch break at yard work. With a reel mower, though, I can set the blade high enough to lop the tall weeds and reveal the lower-growing violets and the buttercups, which have crept through much of the back yard in the past few years. Continue reading “Letting the flowers say it for themselves”