Vox Populi

Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry

Paul Christensen: The First Snowfall

The first snow of winter here in central Vermont has now fallen. It came late this year, late by several months, according to the TV weather watchers. I’m glad it took so long; it gave us a few more weeks to work in the yard, to putter in the garage, aimlessly shifting the junk to different corners, trying to be serious and practical while the trees shed their leaves and the chipmunks and squirrels slowly ease out of sight. Now it’s here, a ruffled cotton quilt of snow that makes a fragile cover, a puffy one, curled up over the ruts and ditches, and parting its satiny texture to make way for a still-running creek.

We’re used to the dark emerald world of pasture grass and the heavy branches of the maples and oaks hanging over a fast-running stream. Almost any road in this part of the state runs along a river, since all the settling that took place two centuries before occurred when someone built a mill and supplied cheap energy for cutting wood, pounding grain, running saws and forge hammers before the age of steam. Towns grew up soon after, and the lumbermen came in from other states to work the thick, untouched hardwood forests that abounded back then. Cutting them down, or clearing them, made way for pastureland and the dairy industry, still a mainstay of the state’s stagnant economy. So the roads gave the interior little fissures in the deep forest shade through which to travel, trade, or simply wander. They curl and sidle up hillsides following the whims of the black water tumbling over the rocks. There is a kind of dance between these blue roads and the foaming, reckless water that surges down the slopes.

The trees frame us in a complicated black and white world. The branches enmesh the gray sky, and fan out like spider webs, or like the bars of a prison. The prison image is the more likely, since we are now house-bound, driven indoors for the months ahead by the stark, frigid air, the stillness that suddenly hardens like glass around one’s house. Beneath us, great slabs of granite spread out and merge into equally thick masses of marble. They hold up the world, these stone floors. The loamy earth, so soft and crumbly in the warm months, is now frosted over with a grainy sand-like ice, as remote from summer as childhood is to the elderly. Here and there, a fallen acorn has missed the eye of a squirrel; empty seed husks lie around like the debris of an old battle field. The great season of plenty has wasted its power and squandered all the fertility that was released out of the forces of spring. You gaze upon the ruins of wild grass and tall, broken-necked weeds and wonder what all the urgency was about a few months before.

Lamps are turned on by mid-day; fires are lit in the grate, to help along a furnace in the cellar, which tends sometimes to find pushing heat up into the upper floors a hard task. The smell of wood smoke in the yard, while you get more wood into the wheelbarrow, is like some old forgotten uncle’s tobacco smoke, a pleasant smell full of yearning for other days. Love is like some unopened letter sent years before, misplaced on a shelf. To open it now would fill you with the same emptiness that you see in the hazy hilltops to the east of us. Something has left the world and its absence is crucial, a pain that has no particular name or verb to define it. “A certain slant of winter light,” as Emily Dickinson described it, “heavenly hurt,” a sign of mortality suddenly visible, even palpable in the world as you pull your sweater tight and sit down heavily in a chair, your back to the glare of winter, to read a book you’ve been promising yourself to open for years and years.

The only relief one can find after the snow has fallen and the roads are scraped clear by the snowplows, is to go into town to shop. Suddenly the bright produce in the bins is a source of vague joy; so are the cans of beans and bottles of hot sauce. The cooler is piled high with range-free hens’ eggs. There’s bacon, if you want it; and pancake mix, cream cheese, and jugs of maple syrup. Eating is more than a luxury, it’s a way of celebrating that you are alive, and that your kitchen is warm and misty with the bubbling of an omelet, the aroma of coffee rising out of the drip machine. Toast pops up and shows its golden, almost saffron-yellow sides, as if some message suddenly appeared in your inbox full of warmth and joy from an Indian friend sitting by his open window in Calcutta. You eat with others, if they’re around, and push back an empty plate to look again, to let the eyes walk out into the pearl-colored afternoon, up the icy hills and into the foggy distance, only to retract your stare and realize you are cocooned, your feet snug in fleece-lined slippers, your arms comforted by a wool cardigan.

This is the weather that induces a kind of Norwegian state of reverie, the moody, somber thoughts of an Ibsen, or an Edward Munch, or the dark, ponderous music of Edvard Grieg. A black and white world shades off into an infinite gradation of grays and ambiguities. The eye is lost among the myriad shades of meaning winter introduces after the flowers are gone. What it all means baffles the best minds; nothing is clear about winter but that it has halted nature’s cycles; here the earth is frozen, rock-hard, a brittle, silent, landscape of blackened monuments in a park more like a cemetery than a hinterland, a rural landscape. And what one thinks about is eternity, the unknown, the triviality of most events, the fragility of life. I think about my childhood, but in doing so, I am like a man standing on a cliff looking out at the sea, where a small boat drifts to the horizon with my boyhood self waving back at me with a forgiving smile.

Copyright 2016 Paul Christensen

photo_27

Traditional 19th c. painting by unknown artist, courtesy of Kedron Valley Innest. 1828 in South Woodstock, VT

 

 

28 comments on “Paul Christensen: The First Snowfall

  1. sdf
    February 2, 2016

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    Like

  2. liveitfreely
    January 31, 2016

    This was amazing! A really great read! Please check out my first ever blog🙂 http://liveitfreely.wordpress.com

    Like

  3. Yuban Gonzalez
    January 29, 2016

    love it. Please follow me.

    Like

  4. Lisa Meister
    January 27, 2016

    Beautiful writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. andreeacst
    January 24, 2016

    Nice work!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. theeverydaygirll
    January 23, 2016

    I just started my own blog! Give it a look!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You are a very gifted blogger. Nice work! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. pandacheeseworks
    January 22, 2016

    I haven’t seen snow even once. Being born in a country with tropical climate has its perks and downsides. Your post, gave my eyes the ability to see something surreal yet realistic. You deserve an award *claps*
    If you like, you can visit my blog. I just recently started though: mediocrehuman.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  9. treasuredmemoriesfrommommasporch
    January 21, 2016

    Loved reading this. I could feel myself there.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Artalos
    January 21, 2016

    Painting with words… very nice. But there is something you can do very simple when snowfall: https://artalos.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/first-snow-where-do-you-drift-today/

    Like

  11. petiteloulou25
    January 21, 2016

    Reblogged this on petiteloulouseverydayadventures and commented:
    Loved the imagery the words evoked in this blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. petiteloulou25
    January 21, 2016

    Loved the imagery your words evoked! I especially enjoyed the portion about the hues of produce at the grocery brightening one’s mood on a dreary winter’s day. Can’t wait to visit Vermont once more!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. johnberk
    January 21, 2016

    Beautifully written story which reminded me of my recent winter experience from Canyon Lights.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Bea dM
    January 21, 2016

    Beautiful and haunting post, painting and all: it brought the memory of the underfoot crunch and smell of snow when I was a child. I do so miss the snow …

    Liked by 2 people

  15. hamzamasood
    January 21, 2016

    Amazing painting looks real

    Liked by 2 people

  16. oshrivastava
    January 21, 2016

    Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. shubhurbanguy
    January 20, 2016

    Beautifully written indeed. The writing meanders through melancholy, stops by Hope and again travels on a journey of yearning. Loved it !

    Liked by 2 people

  18. PursuePeaceBlog
    January 20, 2016

    Incredible imagery. North Dakota winters are just as brutal. There is a beautiful stillness about winter. Love your description of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Pingback: Paul Christensen: The First Snowfall | honeybeecharism

  20. davidever
    January 20, 2016

    Reblogged this on CHI's blog.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Reflections
    January 20, 2016

    Beautifully written, such a descriptive narration that I could feel all the colors and emotions. Loved it.

    Liked by 5 people

  22. theinstilmind
    January 20, 2016

    Really great….

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Pingback: The First Snowfall – abc704

  24. Nilu Mendes
    January 20, 2016

    Beautifully written. Loved it. 👏🏻

    Liked by 4 people

  25. Darren
    January 20, 2016

    Great post! I’ve just started my own blog too, take a look at https://darrensharpewrites.wordpress.com and follow if you find it interesting! Many MANY more to come🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  26. Ideazworld5
    January 20, 2016

    Well looks real. Salute

    Liked by 4 people

  27. ruchirabiswas97
    January 20, 2016

    While reading this I didn’t feel that I haven’t visited the place…it displaces you to that position!! Well composed!

    Liked by 4 people

  28. Pingback: Paul Christensen: The First Snowfall | musnadjia423wordpress

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