The Tormenting Wind

photo of a windy day at Manna Farm — Nate Lovegren

Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.
~Jane Kenyon from “February: Thinking of Flowers”

We thought we had skated past winter this time: only a few sub-freezing days since October, no northeasters, no snow.

Then February comes and the ground hog lied two days ago. Winter came in a big fell swoop yesterday with blowing snow, collapsing trees onto wires, lifting off roofs and pushing hard at old barn walls. It is still pounding us from the northeast today with windchills in the subzero digits.

A hunker down day.

How hard is it to think of summer flowers in February when all is ice and bluster and chill? I barely recall them when I’m trying to warm my frozen fingers. Yet the bulbs are poking through the ground, with some measure of hope fueling them to keep coming, and that sight alone warms me.

This wind too shall pass… at about 50 mph with gusts to 70. It would be just fine if it kept going and didn’t look back.

Licking a Wound

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Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.
~Jane Kenyon from “February: Thinking of Flowers”

 

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Turning the page on the calendar today doesn’t fix anything.  The arctic wind is blasting frozen again, snow is in the forecast, the skies practically crackle cold.

I’m like a dog tormented by my own open and raw flesh, trying my best to lick it healed, unable to think of anything or anyone else, going over it again and again:  how tired I feel, how bruised I am, how high the climb I must make, how uprooted I feel, how impossibly long it will be until I’m warm again.

Even now green sprouts try to push up even while molested by ice.  Soon fresh blooms will grace the barnyard and I will be distracted from my own wound licking.

It’s February and it’s a northeaster.

<*sigh*>

The cold never bothered me anyway…

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Outside My Window

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Again I reply to the triple winds
running chromatic fifths of derision
outside my window:
                                  Play louder.
You will not succeed. I am
bound more to my sentences
the more you batter at me
to follow you.
                                  And the wind,
as before, fingers perfectly
its derisive music.
~William Carlos Williams  “January”

 

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It’s been uncharacteristically cold here for nearly a month and this morning the northeast wind is back, pummeling away at our windows.

This is cold that descends from the Arctic to blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak under drafty doors, and freeze pipes not left dripping.  It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn, mocking us with its discordant chilly chords.

A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival.  It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.

Our nation is in just such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided about the inauguration to come, each of us feeling battered and pummeled by the winds of change.  If we together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.

Hope is all we have left as so much hot air is being generated by derisive voices, even in the chillest land…

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
~Emily Dickinson
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A Few Feathery Flakes

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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.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

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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

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“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.”
~Frederick Buechner

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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.
~Tasha Tudor

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“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.”
~E.L. Doctorow

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coyote in the field

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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…
~John Crowley

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blowing snow in the barn
blowing snow in the barn

another barnstorming
another barnstorming

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“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.”
~Richard Brautigan

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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”

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Get My Drift

Snowdrift against barn

As a child growing up in the south Puget Sound region, I never remember wind and snow arriving together to create havoc in the same storm. Each on its own, they could be intimidating enough: the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 blew winds over 100 mph leaving many homes without power for weeks. The heaviest snow fall in Olympia was in January 1972 with 14 inches over 24 hours and three feet over several days–big heavy wet flakes heard to splat as they landed. Many roofs caved in under the burden.

So when I moved with my husband up to Whatcom County over a quarter century ago, I was ill-prepared for the devastation that a snowy northeaster can bring to a community. I had never seen a “white out” before (my family always jokes that I considered the appearance of four sequential snowflakes a “blizzard”), and I certainly had never experienced subzero wind chill temperatures. Now this was real winter–not the pretend winters I grew up with. This was honest-to-goodness prairie-blizzard midwest-sturdy-stock finger-frostbite Arctic blast winter. My Minnesota-born husband considers it no big deal. I believe this is what it must feel like when hell freezes over.

We’ve had a few humdinger northeasters over the years with over 90 mph screaming wind gusts that threaten to pull the roof right off a barn (and sometimes does). We’ve seen freezing rain/sleet storms that cover everything with an inch or more of glistening ice, breaking off telephone poles midway up from the one-two punch of weight and wind. And we have seen drifting snow–in 1996 we had ten foot drifts we needed to tunnel through or climb over in order to get to the barns to feed the animals stowed safely inside.

I was so naive to think I knew winter before coming to Whatcom County.

Today brought significant snow to my old stomping grounds in Olympia, threatening that 1972 record for snow accumulation over 24 hours. We had a mere 8 inches fall here at our farm in northern Whatcom County, which would have been just grand if the northeast wind hadn’t decided to start picking it up and moving it around today. Windchills have dropped into the negative mid-teens and there have been white out conditions on many county roads as the once peaceful snowflakes of two days ago are lifted up and blown miles before they hit a barrier and drop like a rock in growing pile-ups. Snow fences used to be put up every fall along major roads to prevent the predictable drifts from obstructing traffic flow. As there had not been a significant storm in over ten years, the farmers and county public works have not been as diligent. The roads are filling with drifts and our county’s meager number of snowplows can’t keep up. So cars and citizens get stuck, swirled, snarled and overwhelmed with white stuff.

It is now after 10 PM and the county snow plow just showed up to push aside the large snow drift covering the road on the hilltop where our farm is located. He’s been going back and forth for over an hour, just working on the snow on the road in front of our house. Hey, I’m very grateful for the 24/7 shifts these workers are pulling. We might find our mailbox again in a few weeks and so we can go to work in the morning, we’ll be digging out the new mountain of snow on our driveway entrance.

So enough already.

Give me rain. For me, webfoot that I am, that is real winter: sloshing soaking squishy spongy muddy puddles and pools everywhere. It may not be as pretty or as dramatic, or provide great stories to tell to the grandchildren someday, but being a little wet never hurt anyone.

I think you get my drift.

North Whatcom County photo by Phil Dwyer