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SNOW


It's snowing out. The first cold precipitation since last winter. And last winter was sparsely precipitated, hardly enough crystal to pack a snowball. Here's this virginal dandruff drifting down on my hedge, which I can see through a chink in the curtain, and already it looks like the flocking on a Christmas tree. The birds get shy about this time of the day, wondering where the dry branches are. Cars go slowly past the house, which is a relief. Usually the pick-ups take this little stretch of country road as the straightaway of a stock car track. Oops, one just flew by with its tailgate on fire, so to speak.

Snow brings out some longing in me. It takes me back to the kitchen where my mother sat sipping her tea and listening to the news about school closings. She dreaded to hear my own school was shutting its doors. It meant having me underfoot. I wasn't easy to entertain at the age of eleven, with too few toys to pull out of my closet, and a bike that wasn't very stable on icy roads. She knew I'd be itching to turn on our old Fada television, a pathetic gray box with a face of a punch-drunk boxer. The eye stared ahead with a dead green veil over its inert brain. But it would finally go on and my mother would retire to her bedroom to read a magazine.

But that was back then. This is now, the passing moment, the wounded opening into time where relativity has free play with the fates. Anything could happen, but almost never does. The ordinary world holds sway over the universe of contradictions, the wilderness of illogic that begins in our own heads and roars out to the unknown edges of the darkness. We impose the mundane onto this wobbly carpet of atoms, even as we look out and see the flakes tumbling end over end onto the grass, the clotted limbs of the privet. Hume said we were fooled by the notion of cause and effect; it was just our habit of making one thing seem to cause another, when in fact, reality was nothing more than coincidences, infinite sets of them that just vaguely appeared to behave according to some penurious laws of our frightened minds.

The snow is beautiful as it collects on the surface of this flimsy landscape. The intricate latticework of naked trees slowly sags under the weight of so much make-believe. Suddenly we find ourselves in some elaborate dream of bursting pillows and quilts coming undone, letting go their feathers into the world. We are floating on the billows of disintegrating clouds, of ideas that have no home in our minds and suddenly find themselves airborne and independent of our imaginations. My memory is raining names and faces down onto the back porch, on the garden with its museum of ancient weeds. The road is slowly disappearing into another dimension.

My wife informs me that the storm will last three hours. No need to call out the snow plows, the salt trucks. The machinery of government will rest in the cavernous garage where men slop around in heavy rubber boots, on call for emergencies. The hardware store is putting out extra shovels in case the snow doesn't melt. It's that time of year when you eat squash soup and become familiar again with all the humors of an onion -- which has now replaced the apple, and before the apple, the rosy, amorous red fruit of the tomato. The onion is the symbol of wool coats and knitted hats, of thick-soled shoes and cars that keep gagging on their own gas before starting up. We're under the sign of the refrigerator, the Freon that moves sluggishly through the coils of the freezer. We're entering upon the seas of cold wooden floors, of stairs that creak at night as the house tightens around its own shivering soul.

The snow makes a jigsaw puzzle out of the once beautiful green forests. You see all the flaws of the natural world through the frosted eyesight of snow. Nothing flows, nothing is festooned on the limbs like feathered boas. All is magnetized and welded to whatever projects itself out of the polarized light. A branch is like the spar of a ghost ship as it pierces the fog and finds itself in a desert of gray waves. The devil has abandoned us for the south, where it suns itself on the side of a pool, sipping a drink and chatting with others who have migrated to Florida to escape the jagged teeth of November. God is old at this time of year, a doddering giant who has lost his magic. I hear his footstep in the desolate hill behind us, and his breath comes slowly, like a man who has left home and has no road to follow. The old women throw out stale bread for birds that can't find any seeds in the field.

Snow is a profound victory for the deaf; it makes no noise, not even a squeak as it dips down the branches, and piles up on mailboxes. We are at the opposite end of music in this tarnished silver hemisphere. The eye is mesmerized by the air, with its curtains of icy molecules falling exactly as Lucretius said they did through all of space -- the fall of atoms without a floor, the descent of matter out of the infinity above. The snow reminds us that we are in the middle of a vast estate of inanimate events, the continuous waterfall of dying energy landing on the rocks to evaporate and continue to fall forever.

I will light a fire tonight from the logs I was smart enough to bring in from the woodpile. They're piled up in a cracked wheelbarrow. The mounds of old New York Times issues await my skillful wrists to shred them. The mud room still has a box of kindling I can dig into, pine scrap from a mill up north in Williston, which I used to buy from a man for five dollars a crate. This is the last one. He went out of business and I can't find anyone else to offer the same service. The fire will gnaw at the dark a while and start to flame with a clicking noise as the iron of the stove heats up. It will pass out heat to the immediate air and then slowly suffuse the room in a golden assurance. We can relax then, unlimber our tense arms and legs and forget about the snow, which may still be falling outside.

Supper will be done, the dishes rinsed and stacked in the machine. The leftovers will be in bowls in the refrigerator for the next night. I've poured a whiskey over ice, and splashed some water to cut the strength. I will sit back and forgive the night for being so relentlessly lifeless. Inside the house are flickers of grace, tiny tongues praying to the corners of the room to embrace the delicate heat. I put a pillow behind my head and tilt back, as if I were in some toboggan about to descend a steep, linen-white hill with blue creases and meticulous needles of blackness. Dreams begin halfway down my vision of the toboggan sliding through the forgiving ice, parting the stout pillars of reason to make way for fantasy. Snow encourages me to make things up, to tell myself stories about strange creatures emerging from their burrows to forage for prey. I hear a coyote whisper out its thoughts far from here, as it puts down a tentative paw and looks about for something furry and unaware to pounce upon.

This is winter, its cloak unbuttoned, its hat askew, its hoarse voice singing about death as it heads off under a matte black heaven. The lantern it swings glows with moonlight. Soft, tender nightfall encloses us as we lie here with half-lidded eyes and make our peace with the suspension of nature's pulse.

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