Under the giving snow blossoms a daring spring.
To loosen with all ten fingers held wide and limber
And lift up a patch, dark-green, the kind for lining cemetery baskets,
Thick and cushiony, like an old-fashioned doormat,
The crumbling small hollow sticks on the underside mixed with roots,
And wintergreen berries and leaves still stuck to the top, —
That was moss-gathering.
But something always went out of me when I dug loose those carpets
Of green, or plunged to my elbows in the spongy yellowish moss of the marshes:
And afterwards I always felt mean, jogging back over the logging road,
As if I had broken the natural order of things in that swampland;
Disturbed some rhythm, old and of vast importance,
By pulling off flesh from the living planet;
As if I had commited, against the whole scheme of life, a desecration.
~Theodore Roethke “Moss-Gathering”
The moss I gather
through the camera lens —
a microcosm forest
of sprouts and undergrowth,
delicate branches and blossoms.
An environ all its own
on an old stump, a roof of shingles,
the north side of an ancient rock.
Words I write
are like doormats of moss,
lying thick as a carpet across the page,
piled one upon another,
some more beautiful,
some so plain as not to be noticed,
some with just the right curve and form
to make a difference,
cushioning my fall
when gentle grace is about
to catch me.
Although the snow still lingers
Heaped on the ivy’s blunt webbed fingers
And painting tree-trunks on one side,
Here in this sunlit ride
The fresh unchristened things appear,
Leaf, spathe and stem,
With crumbs of earth clinging to them
To show the way they came
But no flower yet to tell their name,
And one green spear
Stabbing a dead leaf from below
Kills winter at a blow.
~Andrew Young, “Last Snow”
The snow is ice-encrusts the morning
before it bids farewell under warming sunlight.
Winter encasing spring
grasping one last moment
A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air,
and hover downward with uncertain flight,
now almost alighting on the earth,
now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.
It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny.
Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows,
so fluffy someone must have plumped them up;
the ground a series of humps and mounds,
beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden;
a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises—
it was comic to behold, straight out of a book of fairy tales.
But if there was something roguish and fantastic
about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way,
the towering statues of snow-clad Alps,
gazing down from the distance,
awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.
~Thomas Mann from The Magic Mountain
“You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there–
the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall.
All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home,
which is no less shimmering and white as it falls.
The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence.
It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at,
but unless the child in you is entirely dead,
it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way,
before your defenses are up.
It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.”
You should see my corgis at sunset in the snow.
It’s their finest hour. About five o’clock they glow like copper.
Then they come in and lie in front of the fire like a string of sausages.
“one day you stepped in snow,
the next in mud,
water soaked in your boots and froze them at night,
it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry,
it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle.”
Snow not falling but flying sidewise, and sudden,
not signaled by the slow curdling of clouds all day
and a flake or two drifting downward,
but rushing forward all at once as though sent for.
And filling up the world’s concavities,
pillowing up in the gloaming,
making night light with its whiteness,
and then falling still in every one’s dreams…
“The smallest snowstorm on record took place an hour ago in my back yard.
It was approximately two flakes.
I waited for more to fall, but that was it.
The entire storm was two flakes.”
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
~Robert Frost “Reluctance”
I wish one
could press snowflakes
in a book
~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
…Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.
Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.
~Ted Hughes from “Snow and Snow”
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
~Wallace Stevens from “The Snow Man”
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
~Robert Frost from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
“Listen to your life.
See it for the fathomless mystery it is.
In the boredom and pain of it,
no less than in the excitement and gladness:
touch, taste, smell your way
to the holy and hidden heart of it,
because in the last analysis
all moments are key moments,
and life itself is grace.”
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
~Maya Angelou from “When Great Trees Fall”
When I need to be restored,
humbled and forgiven,
I walk back to the woods on our farm
to stand before the great beings
cut down in their prime
over one hundred years ago,
their scarred stumps still bearing the notches
from the lumbermen’s springboards.
Old growth firs and cedars
became mere headstones
in the graveyard left behind.
They existed, they existed,
their grandeur leaves no doubt.
I leave the woods and come back
to the world better
because they existed.
repost from 2004 (published in May 2007 Country Magazine)
The past few weeks have been particularly dark and dank. February often feels like this: the conviction winter will never be finished messing with us.
Our doldrums are deep; brief respite of sun and warmth too rare.
I feel it in the barn as I go about my daily routine. The Haflingers are impatient and yearn for freedom, over-eager when handled, sometimes banging on the stall doors in their frustration at being shut in, not understanding that the alternative is to stand outside all day in cold rain and wind. To compensate for their confinement, I do some grooming of their thick winter coats, urging their hair to loosen and curry off in sheets over parts of their bodies, yet otherwise still clinging tight. The horses are a motley crew right now, much like a worn ’60s shag carpet, uneven and in dire need of updating. I prefer that no one see them like this and discourage visitors to the farm, begging people to wait a few more weeks until they (and I) are more presentable. Eventually I know the shag on my horses will come off, revealing the sheen of new short hair beneath, but when I look at myself, I’m unconvinced there is such transformation in store for me. Cranky, I put one foot ahead of the other, get done what needs to be done, oblivious to the subtle renewal around me, refusing to believe even in the possibility.
It happened today. Dawn broke bright and blinding and after escorting horses out to daytime paddocks for a sun bath, I heard the fields calling, so I heeded, climbing the hill and turning my face to the eastern light, soaking up all I could. It was almost too much to keep my eyes open, as they are so accustomed to gray darkness. And then I stumbled across something extraordinary.
A patch of snowdrops sat blooming in an open space on our acreage, visible now only because of the brush clearing that was done last fall. Many of these little white upside down flowers were planted long ago around our house and yard, but I had no idea they were also such a distance away, hiding underground. Yet there they’ve been, year after year, harbingers of the long-awaited spring to come in a few short weeks, though covered by the overgrowth of decades of neglect and invisible to me in my self-absorbed blindness. I was astonished that someone, many many years ago, had carried these bulbs this far out to a place not easy to find, and planted them, hoping they might bless another soul sometime somehow. Perhaps the spot marks a grave of a beloved pet, or perhaps it was simply a retreat of sorts, but there the blossoms had sprung from their sleep beneath the covering of years of fallen leaves and blackberry vines.
It was if I’d been physically hugged by this someone long dead, now flesh and blood beside me, with work-rough hands, and dirty fingernails, and broad brimmed hat, and a satisfied smile. I’m certain the secret gardener is no long living, and I reach back across those years in gratitude, to show my deep appreciation for the time and effort it took to place a foretaste of spring in an unexpected and hidden place.
I am thus compelled to look for ways to leave such a gift for someone to find 50 years hence as they likewise stumble blindly through too many gray days full of human frailty and flaw. Though I will be long gone, I can reach across the years to grab them, hug them in their doldrums, lift them up and give them hope for what is to come. What an astonishing thought that it was done for me and in reaffirming that promise of renewal, I can do it for another.