Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Descent of Winter (2)

We had a cold snap for a few days earlier this week, down to minus six or so each night and below freezing each day.  It provided an introduction to winter we didn’t really need because we know it’s coming soon enough, with the same inevitability, someone who is (I think) in Manitoba pointed out to me, as death and taxes.  But we now have a reprieve, and the skim of ice has gone from the frogpond, as well as our own little pond, though the parsley is not likely to stand up again this season.

One of the wonders of that touch of winter was the way splashing water glazed the surfaces it landed on.  Our small dragon kept on spouting, but the water lettuce and water hyacinths we left in the pond are not going to survive this coating of ice.

The morning after a light snowfall there were still remnants on the head of the garden column that Lorraine made.

And, as things warmed up a little, snow slumped off the hood of the car.

While the same snow coated the ice in the pond.

Since this mass of Arctic air moved on, I’ve been able to do a little more yard cleanup, picking up last scraps of firewood, putting pots under cover, and moving the raked leaves to the compost pile.  And the milder air has brought a new crop of moths to the outside light at night and let the crystalline garden soil soften up enough for me to get the last of the tulip bulbs in before everything solidifies again.

Now we can watch with wonder as three pertly perfect chickadees take turns at the suet cage, or the red squirrel makes a fool of itself trying vainly to keep two blue jays away from the seeds, running up slender branches after them and then having to rush down again as they fly back to the feeder for a quick peck.   

And we can wait for the lacy patterns of ice that will soon creep across ponds and puddles again, the iron grip that settles into the ground as it freezes, and the next snowfall that will slide down the air to cover everything as winter descends upon us one more time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Descent of Winter

In 1927 William Carlos Williams wrote a series of poems titled The Descent of Winter.  Each of the twenty included in Collected Early Poems was dated rather than titled, running from 10/29 to 12/15 of that year.  It’s an odd collection with only three of these pieces selected by Williams and Randal Jarrell for his Selected Poems, but there are quite a few in it that I like. 

Here’s one:


In this strong light
the leafless beechtree
shines like a cloud

it seems to glow
of itself
with a soft stript light
of love
over the brittle

But there are
on second look
a few yellow leaves
still shaking

far apart

just one here one there
trembling vividly

And then there’s this one:


We must listen.  Before
she died she told them—
I always liked to be well dressed
I wanted to look nice—

So she asked them to dress
her well.  They curled her hair . . .

Now she fought
She didn’t want to go
She didn’t want to!

Or this:


Even idiots grow old
   in a cap with a peak
over his right ear
   minding the three goats
behind the firehouse
   his face is deeper lined
than last year
   and the rain comes down
in gusts suddenly

I had actually been planning a post about the approach of winter, its onset, how it looks and feels, the leaves on the wet ground, brightness of grass, the ponds overflowing (as someone said recently, “The ponds are always full when they freeze”), and the yellow needles showing up on the tamaracks. 

However, I kept thinking of Williams’ title, the notion that we were on the descent into another season, and when I got to the poems themselves decided that they should stand on their own.  After all, we don’t need reminders of the seasonal change that is coming.  Winter does always find us.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sun after Rain

It is November and this is the sixth day in a row that it has been raining.  A few bright leaves at T & S’s house, small scarlet pointed ones on the Japanese split leaf maple and large yellow heart shapes on the mulberry tree, are hanging on, but many of them are now plastered on the ground, and most of the other trees are bare.  The grass is brilliant green, made even more intense by an unremitting grey sky.  The Sackville River down by the Superstore turnoff is a raging torrent almost up to the bridge, and everything is soggy and sodden.

Sunday afternoon we had a small taste of the light that comes when the weather breaks.  It wasn’t actual sunlight, but you could see a patch of blue and where the sun was if it could just break through the edge of cloud.  It didn’t, and the cloud closed in for at least a couple more days, but it provided at least a promise of what might come (on Thursday, I think, if the forecast doesn’t change).

There is always something to love about sun after rain, so different from the white brightness of desert suns.  It always seems more golden and the blue of the sky always feels washed and fresh.  

I remember my first winter in Vancouver and my introduction to the day after day after day of rain, with no prospect of change.  It was oppressive, that low season, that November dark, but what sticks with me still were those instances toward sunset when the cloud would lift in the west to reveal just enough clear sky for the beneficent rays of sun to shine sideways across the city illuminating everything.  It was always an uplift, both emotionally and meteorologically, and always a wonder. 

After rain the wet surfaces reflect the brightness of the sky, and the remnants of grey cloud provide the kind of dense backdrop for the lit colours that photographers’ eyes (and ours) love.    

In this illuminated world objects seem to be emitting light and colour from within.

The other wonderful thing about the ending of the rain is the possibility of a rainbow, something that still astonishes me.  We have seen some wonderful ones from here arching over the harbour, but one (or two) of the most amazing happened last month as we were driving home from Bayers Lake.  It was late afternoon and the sun had started to drop when the sky opened up to the west.  We were just on the edge of the rain, and the most brilliant double rainbow shone beside and above us, with the near end following the bumper of the car in front of ours rather than pointing to a pot of gold.   

What I find consistently astonishing is the perfection of those curves in the sky and the brilliant delineation of colours, especially in the primary rainbow; I know I could look up the explanation of how the sunlight through the raindrops breaks up into the full spectrum of colour and forms a perfect arc, but I’d rather just see it happen and marvel at its magic.

The rain hasn’t stopped yet, but, according to that forecast, when it does the sun will shine quite a bit longer than it did in Ray Bradbury’s famous story, which we might honestly feel we are part of right now (check it out here if you’re not familiar with its poignancy).   On Thursday, if the forecast holds, I’ll be outside working in the sun and thinking of Bradbury’s  Margot and the tragedy of what she missed