Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the close of winter


We fight against the close
of winter
with our drive to go
on, not to stop
and sleep or beautifully
watch.

With blades and spades
we further our path
though we don’t know where
we are going, or
why

and in our deepening desire
for meaning, the snow
also deepens
around our tired knees.

It would be so simple
to let it stop
us, if we could believe
the stopping would not
do us in

if the in were actually where
the living is. If being
alone was really enough.




19 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, and thanks for reading, Maureen.

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  2. it is inside our tension with the world where we exist.

    a month ago or so after a heavy snowfall i was outside giving all that i had of my terribly pathetic body to my driveway. only to my driveway! the world is claustrophobic with snow this year. there are awesome amounts. i looked up and i saw each neighbour doing the same. i felt a small amount of pity for us because of course over the history of the world it is futile to shovel our driveways clear. even over the course of our own lifetimes. however, our exertion allows us space enough to exist inside. i thought of one log cabin in a forest near a lake. if you put a man in that cabin there would be an area shoveled out. there would be a fire.

    being - oh, how it is a verb!

    and what is on the other side of being? on the other side of relenting and being done in?

    we had better pick up those shovels and dig in/dig out, for a time (for our time) anyways.

    xo
    erin

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    1. Erin, I was relieved yesterday when I saw that Don had snowblown a path to the woodshed. The day before there was no path, and I could hardly get to it. At first when I read what you wrote, that even a man in a log cabin would have an area shoveled outside, I wondered at it. And then I remembered this.

      This poem all started with a trip to the laundry line. I wanted to photograph a quilt I'd finished for my grandson (due today) hanging on the line. I worked very hard to get to it, snow up to my thighs. When I got to the line and held up the small quilt, it could not hang down, because the bottom touched the snow. :) In that moment I felt the futility of shoveling out, but how we have to, we have to keep going, not relenting, not being done in. Man just can't hibernate. But I thought, even semi-hibernation sounds rather nice. Like, why can't we all just work from home in winter. :)

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  3. Oh, I do like this. That second stanza! And I love the ambivalent nature of the conclusion: hope and doubt all rolled up together. The desire for meaning, and that 'meaning' explored and doubled through your language (eg the two meanings of 'alone', the play on 'deepening' and 'deepens', the play on 'in' etc. Very good!

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    1. I'm glad you like this, Robert. Thank you! There really is a tension for me between a desire to succumb to this closing in, to hunker down and stay put, and the necessity of getting out and keeping after it. I don't recall any winter quite like this one, with so many days of difficult driving. And it's a little nerve wracking when trying to plan for a baby's arrival.

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  4. When winter lasts too long, I wonder if it becomes like Lewis' winter without Christmas, Ruth? You know how much I love it and wish a thousand times over we could have had at least a mere taste of it this year. I can feel the bittersweetness of this.... After all, seasons really are meant to be only seasons?

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    1. Boots, I keep thinking of stories I've read of pioneers, like the immigrants from Sweden who settled in Minnesota, and the winters they faced. (I think of Moberg's four-book saga.) They were terribly brutal, and the poor people had hardly any way to survive, and yet they did, most of them. So I know it could be worse. Everyone around me is complaining (not Don), and I keep resisting that, but it really has been difficult. My shoulders seem to be in a permanent state of tension from the cold and driving.

      And yet, I wish you could have had at least a taste of it. These new weather patterns cut odd swaths with extremes on either side.

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  5. Ruthie,

    You've got my imagination rolling here....

    Against the close of winter "we further our path" only as far as we need to go....beyond that "we don't know where...." nor do we know the when, nor for how long....

    I'm reminded of Robert Frost's "I have....miles to go before I sleep."

    Somehow I'm not ready to put the blade and spade away, but I must stop and sleep :) .

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    1. Nelson, an exhausting winter, and so yes we need sleep. I also wish that we could slow our pace with nature, sleep more, or just stay indoors and quilt. :)

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  6. A fine poem, Ruth, which raises a number of interesting questions, some of which intensify as we "further our path" into the last third of life. With the deepening search for meaning and the the snow deepening around our tired knees, metaphorically speaking, there is always the temptation to stop in a sense, to at least slow down to the truly observant state, to experience unadulterated being, but, as you say, there is the countervailing fear of being "done in." It's a passage in which things are always falling away, an experience both terrifying and liberating. I may be way off track here, but this is how I experience your words.

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    1. George, you are spot-on with your thoughts in response to this poem. I had not thought of it as the seasons of life, the winter of this last phase, and I appreciate that you connected with it in that bigger picture way. It is an honor that you read and interpret this for yourself.

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  7. i am attracted to the double sense of "being / alone." perhaps it is necessarily true that choosing contemplative being over acting would also be choosing isolation? and that the paths we beat through the snow are connections to others? (whatever those "paths" may be -- literal tracks in the snow, building cities, building countries, writing a poem, planting a garden, etc....)

    martin heidegger (using a different metaphor, but getting at the same idea) writes of "building" as "opening a clearing in the forest of being" --- both heidegger's cleaning and your path to the woodshed are spaces for interaction and exchange ....

    the poem pretends to be modest, but expands toward the horizon ... doesn't it enact the tension between the vita contemplative and the vita activa by offering this choice between the two meanings of "being / alone" --- by offering the choice and then allowing them to co-exist?

    .

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    1. James, I appreciate your expanse on "being / alone" very much. It's true, I felt a great deal when I was out in the snow-to-my-knees, including what you have written. As so often happens with me, I ask questions, which allure me always, and then somehow living just erases them until the next pause. Your final statement/question is an "answer" of sorts, the kind I can live with: by offering the choice and then allowing them to co-exist? Thank you for your careful reading.

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  8. There is something about winter that feels safe, cloistered. Perhaps the reason why so many major religions were founded in cold climes? Most folks yearn for the end of it, but there is a sadness, too, in knowing that it is coming to an end.

    With blades and spades
    we further our path
    though we don’t know where
    we are going, or
    why

    Oh - there is SO much here, Ruth, you have given us to digest. That pushing of snow is a metaphor for the daily push through life..

    And then there is:

    if the in were actually where
    the living is. If being
    alone was really enough.

    The truth is, we don't know where we're going, or why. And that 'in'...all of our longing goes towards discovering it.

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    1. Amanda, I love that you bring the archeologist's perspective here and point out that many religions began in cold climes. I long for time for contemplation, and so winter is a favorite season. And yet, even in a winter like this one, which has done its best to stop us, we must go on, frenetically. Thank you for your careful and attentive reading, and for such kind words.

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  9. Hi Ruth -- I'm just back from a week in Pennsylvania with my ailing father (actually its his partner whose dying) and experienced 5 snowstorms during that time that left us inbound watching the wonder. As a Floridian, this struggle to work your way out - to create and maintain the paths of daily commerce -- was something I didn't really understand until then. That being can be such hard work ... but of course it's becoming and not being that's the hard part. Like digging through the poem to find and love what was there from the start. I'm grateful to have gotten in some "beautiful watching" when the snow got waist-deep.

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    1. Brendan, thanks so much for reading and getting this. Wow, so you were there during some of the biggest punches of winter. The drama and beauty really captivate me. But eventually, after a winter like this one, even I feel claustrophobic. I'm sorry to hear about the winter of life closing in on your dad and his partner. May they, and you, find a way to experience this passage with peace and beauty.

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  10. As usual I don't have the right words to explain how I feel about this poem but want to let you know that it touched me deeply:)

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All responses are welcome.