Rain always follows the cattle
sniffing the air and huddling
in fields with their heads to the lee.
You will know that the weather is changing
when your sheep leave the pasture
too slowly, and your dogs lie about
and look tired; when the cat
turns her back to the fire,
washing her face, and the pigs
wallow in litter; cocks will be crowing
at unusual hours, flapping their wings;
hens will chant; when your ducks
and your geese are too noisy,
and the pigeons are washing themselves;
when the peacocks squall loudly
from the tops of the trees,
when the guinea fowl grates;
when sparrows chirp loudly
and fuss in the roadway, and when swallows
fly low, skimming the earth;
when the carrion crow
croaks to himself, and wild fowl
dip and wash, and when moles
throw up hills with great fervor;
when toads creep out in numbers;
when frogs croak; when bats
enter the houses; when birds
begin to seek shelter,
and the robin approaches your house;
when the swan flies at the wind,
and your bees leave the hive;
when ants carry their eggs to and fro,
and flies bite, and the earthworm
is seen on the surface of things.
~Ted Kooser “How to Foretell a Change in the Weather” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985,
I reckon the birds and mammals and insects and worms are much better at anticipating weather change than we humans are. It is programmed into their DNA in a way that we have lost in our evolved state. Instead we are glued to our cell phone weather apps, or the Weather Channel, watching the prediction change hour to hour as if it is the gospel truth. I’m here to remind us all it is called a “prediction” for good reason.
We forget about checking the sky for the direction the clouds are traveling, or even what clouds are up there. We forget about checking our own outdoor thermometers because we don’t own them any longer. We certainly forget about barometers – a little kitchen window gadget that my father thumped with his finger every morning of my childhood, so he could see what the atmospheric pressure was doing so he could anticipate how wet or wind-blown he would be that day.
In particular, we forget to watch the critters around us – how their behavior changes and how they are preparing themselves and their environment for whatever weather change to come. They feel it in their bones and their brains by whatever means God has given them.
Our Haflinger horses are already shedding off their winter coats yet there are still six weeks left of winter. What are they trying to say about the weather to come?
So, we humans are weather-challenged creatures but all the clues still exist if only we pay attention. My weather app says the northwest will have rain rain and more rain through the weekend with a possibility of snow late Sunday. The Weather Channel website says we’ll experience high potentially damaging winds, flooding and snow. Who to believe?
I think, all things being equal, I’ll choose to believe what is predicted for Denver this weekend: all sun and a high temperature of 71 degrees. I’m sure all the critters there will be out sunbathing. Wish I could too.
The night’s drifts
Pile up below me and behind my back,
Slide down the hill, rise again, and build
Eerie little dunes on the roof of the house.
The moon and the stars
Suddenly flicker out, and the whole mountain
Appears, pale as a shell.
Look, the sea has not fallen and broken
Our heads. How can I feel so warm
Here in the dead center of January? I can
Scarcely believe it, and yet I have to, this is
The only life I have. I get up from the stone.
My body mumbles something unseemly
And follows me. Now we are all sitting here strangely
On top of the sunlight.
~James Wright, “A Winter Daybreak Above Vence” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose.
This is our fourth day of house arrest with roads icy and drifted and temperatures sub-freezing – a windchill below zero. What sun has appeared is ineffective, as if it were fake news on a winter day.
The prediction is for a dramatic turn-around in the next couple hours with temperatures rising 16 degrees with the advent of southerly “pineapple express” breezes.
I’ll believe it when I feel it. In the past, the drama of a south wind breaking the curse of the icy cold happens so rapidly, we could hear it before we felt it. The sound of ice and snow falling, taking branches with them in the woods was like the rat-a-tat of target shooting. None of us were ready for it and the trees were literally breaking in response to the warming winds.
We can grumble and mumble (and do) but this is the only life we have in the dead center of a January snow and wind storm. We’ll just sit tight braced against the cold, like the hungry birds that flock by the dozens at our feeders, waiting for the warming winds to carry us right into February, preferably unbroken.
I like these cold, gray winter days.
Days like these let you savor a bad mood.
~Bill Watterson from “Calvin and Hobbes”
The wind is keen coming over the ice;
it carries the sound of breaking glass.
And the sun, bright but not warm,
has gone behind the hill. Chill, or the fear
of chill, sends me hurrying home.
~Jane Kenyon from “Walking Alone in Late Winter”
Roused by faint glow at midnight
peering between slats
of window blinds
closed tight to a chill wind-
Bedroom becomes suffused
in ethereal light
from a moonless sky~
a million stars fall silent as
Snow light covers all,
settling gently while
tucking the downy corners
of the snowflake comforter
of heaven, plumping the pillows,
cushioning the landscape,
lightening and illuminating
a fearfully chilled and grumpy heart.
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “The Snow-Storm”
The barn bears the weight
of the first heavy snow
White breath of cows
rises in the tie-up, a man
wearing a frayed winter jacket
reaches for his milking stool
in the dark.
The cows have gone into the ground,
and the man,
his wife beside him now.
A nuthatch drops
to the ground, feeding
on sunflower seed and bits of bread
I scattered on the snow.
The cats doze near the stove.
They lift their heads
as the plow goes down the road,
making the house
tremble as it passes.
~Jane Kenyon “This Morning”
We’ve seen harsher northeast winds, we’ve seen heavier snow. Yet there is something refreshingly disruptive about the once or twice a year overnight snow storm: it transforms, transcends and transfigures.
So we stay home when the weather and farms demand we do, to feed and water ourselves and our animals and the wild ones around us. It is a quiet and private and tumultuous time, a time to be attuned to one another.
The ultimate snow day, when all is atremble.
Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.
~A. S. Byatt from Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
The predicted northeast arctic winds began last night with a minimum of snowfall but already have begun to take a toll: my face and hands are reddened just as if I’ve been in the sun too long.
Whether consumed by flames or frozen solid, resulting in ashes or blocks of ice — somehow the burn yields the same result.
Yet ashes remain ashes, only and forever after, mere dust.
If, instead, during this harsh blow, I’m burned into ice, I know the coming thaw may restore me, melt me slowly by dribs and drabs — no longer imprisoned.
The trees are coming into their winter bareness,
the only green is the lichen on their branches.
Against the hemlocks, the rain is falling in dim, straight lines…
This is the time of year when all the houses have come out of the woods, edging closer to the roads as if for company.
~Verlyn Klinkenborg “The Rain It Raineth”
The deciduous trees in our part of the country have all been stripped bare, having come through rain and gusty winds in the last week. It forces typically leaf-hidden homes out of camouflage and I’m once again startled at the actual proximity of our neighbors. It isn’t as obvious in the summer given the tree buffer everyone has carefully planted. Now we’re reminded once again we are not alone and actually never have been.
Even the mountains that surround us from the northwest to the southeast seem closer when the trees are bare and new snow has settled on their steep shoulders.
We think we have autonomy all wrapped up but it takes the storms of autumn to remind us we are unwrapped and vulnerable, stark naked, in desperate need of company when darkness comes early, the snow flies and the lights are flickering.
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The trees are undressing, and fling in many places—
On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill—
Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces;
A leaf each second so is flung at will,
Here, there, another and another, still and still.
A spider’s web has caught one while downcoming,
That stays there dangling when the rest pass on;
Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming
In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon,
Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon.
~Thomas Hardy “Last Week in October”
So we too may be flung into the unknown,
trembling in the chill wind,
unready to let go of what sustains us,
fated to land wherever the storm blows.
Yet caught up by a silken thread,
left to dangle suspended by faith
to await the hope of rescue, alone and together,
another and another, still and still.
It’s half-past October, the woods
are on fire, blue skies stretch
all the way to heaven. Of course,
we know that winter is coming, its thin
winding sheets and its hard narrow bed.
But right now, the season’s fermented
~Barbara Crooker from “Reel” in The Book of Kells
I want to praise things
that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves
are already gone, blown down by a cold rain,
crushed and trampled. They rise again in leaf meal
and wood smoke. The Great Blue Heron’s returned to the pond,
settles in the reeds like a steady flame.
Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days
behind them like a skein of old wool.
I want to praise everything brief and finite.
~Barbara Crooker from her poem “Equinox” in Selected Poems.
This fading transitional October
renders us transient ourselves-
only visitors here,
not laying down claims
but passing through
while enjoying the scenery,
knowing that this too won’t last
but it is sweet
~let me say it again~
oh so sweet
while we’re here.
The ripe, the golden month has come again…
Frost sharps the middle music of the seasons,
and all things living on the earth turn home again…
the fields are cut, the granaries are full,
the bins are loaded to the brim with fatness,
and from the cider-press the rich brown oozings of the York Imperials run.
The bee bores to the belly of the grape,
the fly gets old and fat and blue,
he buzzes loud, crawls slow,
creeps heavily to death on sill and ceiling,
the sun goes down in blood and pollen
across the bronzed and mown fields of the old October.
rain and wind.
An instant at dusk,
the sun broke through,
peeling away the grey,
infusing amber onto
fields and foliage,
ponies and puddles.
The shower spun
a gold tapestry
through the evening air,
a sunray sweep of
fairy godmother’s wand
across the landscape.
One more blink,
and the sun shrouded,
the color drained away
the glimmer mulled
into mere weeping
our farm’s fallen face.
Now I know to gently
wipe the teardrops away,
having seen the
hidden magic within,
when the light is just so.
Savoring the tears
of gold that glisten
when the light
is just right.