Some weather's coming; you can taste on the sides of your tongue a quince tang in the air. This fall everyone looked to the bands on a woolly bear caterpillar, and predicted as usual the direst of dire winters. This routine always calls to mind the Angiers' story about the trappers in the far north. They approached an Indian whose ancestors had swelled from time immemorial in those fir forests, and asked him about the severity of the coming winter. The Indian cast a canny eye over the landscape and pronounced, "Bad winter." The others asked him how he knew. The Indian replied unhesitatingly, "The white man makes a big wood pile." Here the woodpile is an exercise doggedly, exhaustedly maintained despite what must be great temptation. The other day I saw a store displaying a neatly stacked quarter-cord of fireplace logs manufactured of rolled, pressed paper. On the wrapper of each "log" was printed in huge letters the beguiling slogan, "The ROMANCE Without The HEARTACHE."
In certain places, like Tinker Creek, winter isn't just a season. It's something that's chewed, like a piece of Juicy Fruit, from October until thaw. It's about snow. The depth of it. The amount. The frequency. It's about cold. Wind chills and arctic blasts. Polar vortexes and nor'easters. Winter is a relative you just can't get rid of. Crazy Uncle Ned.
There's a winter weather advisory in effect for my area of the Upper Peninsula for tonight through tomorrow. Not a dusting of snow. It's supposed to be inches, accompanied by wind chills that kill car batteries. And, yes, when speaking with neighbors or the guy in the checkout line ahead of me, I fall back on winter as a topic. It's safe. A common ground. All Yoopers can talk about the weather. Bitch about it. Say, with a hint of pride, "Ten inches last night."
I will set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. tonight. Get up. Put on two pairs of pants, layers of shirts, and boots. I will go outside and shovel. And shovel. And shovel. After breakfast, I will probably shovel some more. That is life in the Upper Peninsula in January. A series of snow events, followed by Alberta Clippers and lake enhancements.
I am tired tonight, and I am getting up early to deal with snowplows and snowdrifts. I will probably swear a great deal. Howl into the wind.
Saint Marty wants Crazy Uncle Ned to go home.
A winter poem . . .
by: Ilya Kaminsky
Joseph made his living by giving private lessons in everything from engineering to Greek. His eyes were sleepy and small, his face dominated by a huge mustache, like Nietszche's. He mumbled, Do you enjoy Brahms? I cannot hear you, I said. How about Chopin? I cannot hear you. Mozart? Bach? Beethoven? I am hard of hearing, could you repeat that please? You will have a great success in music, he said.
To meet him, I go back to the Leningrad of 1964. The streets are devilishly cold: we sit on the pavement, he begins abruptly (a dry laugh, a cigarette) to tell the story of his life, his words change to icicles as we speak. I read them in the air.