Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowbound and reading

Sometimes I get tired, enervated, restless, thinking it's all here, in my library: history, romance and psychology, the state of the environment, philosophy. News that pretends to be new. Chronicles of events that keep repeating themselves over the decades, over the centuries. The lives of others. I've read enough to come to believe that I possess, or am possessed by, a spirit of some sort. Is it inside me somewhere, this spirit? Perhaps it resides in memories or in the community, or in these books, my companions. Christmas has come and gone. Saturday morning, the four-year-old, having opened all her presents, surrounded by torn gift wrapping, looked up and implored, "Is that all there is?" I don't know -- perhaps so. But don't worry, darlin, you'll have your memories. As somebody else said, "It's the thought that counts."

Though I love books I can only read so much, then I need to go out and walk in the wordless world. It might be up here in the winter woods or down there along the crowded city blocks, in the Highlands or New York. In the right mood, it feels the same, life teems in both, even on a day like this, with more than a foot of fresh snow covering everything and a sharp wind gusting near fifty creating dunes and drifts, bringing tears to my eyes, stinging my cheeks. This is my break -- to walk and revel in pure being. But the damn words follow me outside like a tiresome obedient dog: the word "white" suggests the Buddhist symbol of death, the blood drained from a corpse's face, the absence of color. Winter is the white ghost who walks among us. Over the frozen lake little tornadoes of powdery snow skip and bounce from north to south. Erratic skaters.

I will try to lose my words here, walking fast, breathing hard, letting my eyes take in the scene without naming a thing. Walking northward is difficult because of the wind, it slaps me and beats against my chest. My nose runs and little ice crystals form inside my scarf around my mouth and chin. Thirty, forty foot trees bend in the wind like great blades of grass. Some of the windward surfaces have been scoured, blown clean, and lie bare in the cold. The living can never get that clean. Living is a dirty business. I walk faster over ground as hard as granite but those words stay with me, faithful partners of consciousness, panting and skidding but right on my tail. They give me the shivers.

The living mind is never empty of words. I should be grateful I'm not in the grave. But I can't help feeling I'm missing something essential as soon as I start to think, that some traceless shred of the Real vanishes like the wind, never to be caught. I can give it no name, nor spell out its qualities. I don't know if it's there, it may not even exist. But because I can only think in words, I will never be sure, one way or the other. This walking into the wind, trying to clear the mind, mindful of mind, the mind in daylight dreaming a real dream. Watching the dogs play in the snow. Wiping my nose, adjusting my sunglasses. Here is the sky turning blue as the storm heads northeast, here is the dead cat lying by the side of the road, here is the culvert leading to the lake, here is the frozen stream, icicles hung up in mid-air. Here is a dead branch ripped off the maple. I walk through the world the same way I walk through the words in books, registering sensations, trying to memorialize them before I forget them. I pick up the branch and take it back home with me.

Back in the house, warming my cold-bitten hands at the fireplace, I wonder how I will ever assuage this hunger for the real. Consciousness curls up on the couch. I heat water for tea. The day is already filled with forgetting. Christmas means less and less each year, an engine of commerce, a way to mark time, a hash-mark on the calendar. The others who live around here -- I wonder if they feel the same as I do. Outside the bay window, blue shadows move across the white snow. The kettle whistles. I will settle in for the afternoon and read some more.

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