Sunday, December 7, 2008

FIELD NOTES: When I heard the snowplow in the early morning...

Afternoon, top of December

...I thought about being able to take my first snowy walk of the season, easy to think of in a warm, cozy bed on a Sunday morning. But when I do get to Harrybrooke at three with the temp on the dashboard reading 33, I am surprised by a powerful slap of wind and consider turning back. Not wanting to be a fair weather friend, I think “maybe, just once around” and doesn’t the ice trimming the waters’ edge look beautiful…like white lace? Then my stiffened cheeks mound up at the sight of a tiny snowman atop the post that holds up a small metal trash can. There is playfulness in winter, though the brisk wind continues to test my friendship as the huge white pines swoop down to flap at me like some fraternity initiation. The wind sounds vast and hollow and searching. The earth has turned one cheek away from the sun. Through cold-induced tears, I blink up at the sun that is no longer a radiant sunflower yellow, but so pale that if a sunbeam were to reach me, it would break over my head like a thin pane of ice. Over the river and through the bare trees, the flags on the golf course still standing in their holes bring soldiers to mind – so incredibly dutiful in their discomfort. I pass a few hearty souls…women walking…the passing greetings are less warm and more earnest, mostly an acknowledgment of what we must continue to do. I walk by a pair of lanky, layered, knit-capped figures blending in with the tree trunks…except for the cigarette and cell phone. A different purpose. After one mile around the park, the wind calms for a moment and, as if I have proven my mettle, Harrybrooke grasps me with steely arms, acknowledging my admiration, my respect and…that I am still here. My fingertips are warm now; the blood circulates under my frozen outer core like the mud of hibernating ponds. I feel as if I have been swallowed into the warm belly of a beast, welcomed now, although my body’s survival strategies are not nearly as ingenious as the frog’s with its antifreeze and adaptable metabolism that allows it to sleep winter away. The only sound today is a rhythmic whacking – firewood being split? In the periphery I see the movement of two sweatshirt hooded figures on a back deck. I guess it’s the whack of a staple gun installing Christmas lights – more dutiful discomfort. I have to watch my step on the way out; the wet pavement is icing up before me. Returned to my car, I find I don’t really need to crank up the heat because, except for my exposed face feeling like a drawstring is tightening around it, in the warmer interior there is enough contrast to feel the comfort. I am a lucky one; I can choose to survive this climate, I can choose to challenge myself in the cold because…I am not homeless, because there is certain warmth awaiting me. Really, I am only toying with survival …at least for today….

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