Neophilia

Last week, I just couldn’t write. I sat down every morning and wrote some words, but they all felt hollow. On Friday, I finally gave up. What did it matter anyway, I thought darkly. We are truly in the gray days of winter–lingering low clouds a uniform pale gray, errant snow flurries that flutter and disappear, a constant cold wind, highs several degrees above freezing. Winter has never been easy, but this winter is a bit harder than normal. I knew it back in fall and tried to prepare myself for the inevitability of it, but there’s no getting around it. We are now in the midst of the darkest winter in years.

What to do but walk? I never stop walking. However, walking changes this deep in winter, especially when there is no snow. The leaf litter becomes dull and listless, and it becomes harder to see something beautiful that moves you. The discoveries are few and far between, and you have to be content with them. A quick glance of an owl above you. A wriggling salamander in a puddle under a thin layer of ice. You have to rely on your inner landscape to pull you through, and sometimes you don’t have the strength for that. It’s then that I just keep on walking, focusing on the motion of one leg after another. The muscle memory pushes you forward.

Novelty is something humans rely on to keep going, even small new things. In this pandemic winter, novelty is scarce. One of the places where I look for newness and change is the river. Every day the river, a tidal estuary, changes, and it also changes throughout the day with the tides. Since it’s gotten colder, I’ve been watching the ice forming on it. One day when it just turned colder, you could see the waves coming into shore were thicker somehow–you could tell that with the cold the water was slowing down. A day or two after, you could hear it: the ice shards were forming, rattling around as the water moved, like a crystal chandelier was caught in the tide. And then one afternoon, it had frozen over as the tide went out, leaving door-sized panels of thick clear ice, somehow glazing into perfectly flat planes, instead of gripping the rocks below. I’m sure there’s a good explanation for why this happens, but I was content to be astounded by the magic of it.

This ice pulled me out of my listless torpor. I bent down and began to see all the various patterns in the layers–some were lines, some were circles, some were arrows, and in some places it was vaguely clear. My son was entranced by stomping on it, which is one of his favorite winter activities. The sound is deafening, and the breaking of ice is extremely satisfying. I joined him in this at his behest, and we crunched the ice together. We picked up slabs of thin, perfectly clear ice and crashed it down on other panels of ice, the slab then breaking into tiny pieces and skittering out towards the water which lurked far out under the ice, as it was low tide. It was a short fifteen minutes of deep sensory enjoyment: crashing sounds, breaking ice, different shapes. A novelty.

Notes:

I don’t watch much TV, but I am going to admit that sometimes I zone out on the Netflix show Ancient Aliens, which never fails to both interest me with its subject matter and crack me up with its campy tone. Giorgio Tsoukalos is my favorite, but who doesn’t appreciate Erich von Däniken? Even Elizabeth Kolbert gives him a nod in this article about ‘Oumuamua. I’ve been seeing and reading so many articles on alien life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to get lost in these subjects.

Monitoring Weather at the End of the World – these photographs are amazing, and the story of this woman alone in this desolate place fascinates me.

The native people called the Hudson River Muhheakunnuk, The River That Runs Both Ways.

Weather Station – I really loved this woman’s music and mission.

I might go down to writing every other week, so don’t worry about me. I’m just looking for something new…

  1. I hear you about the listlessness and the endless gray, the dullness of the salt and gravel covered leaf litter. Ugh. But then it snowed and now all is beautiful and new again outside for a little while. I hope you keep writing. I wanted to write something recently (about early morning walks with my older son on which we caper with our cats through our woods and I collect deer poop to amend our compost – there’s so much of it, like black gold! I love doing it as it makes me think about the deer, imagining their paths, their diets, their ages and sizes and try to puzzle out what on earth they’re eating in these spots in the winter… even though I realize my new “hobby” will strike most humans as I totally insane thing to do) and realized that I basically just aspire to write like you. You’re my role model 🙂 I love the ice photos, too. One good thing about covid is that for the first winter ever, we’ve been spending time on my mom-in-law’s beautiful pond next door. The boys are trying skating for the first time (in earnest after hating the field trips to the rink in SAugerties). Now I need to find ice skates (and a whole lot of knee and wrist pads and the like…)

    1. Yes, the snow is gorgeous, isn’t it? I was just outside working on my cross-county ski game.

      That’s the nicest thing to say ever, Eve, thank you! Please start writing! I will want to read it.

      We’ve been skating, too! Pond skating is the best. Knee and wrist pads are a really good idea…I might need those!

  2. Thank you for this gorgeous, dark, and yet encouraging post. You may sometimes think it doesn’t matter, but here are comments from two people who appreciate and draw inspiration from the gift you offer when you post. As someone who doesn’t know ice, I’m mesmerized by your description of the estuary freezing over and the sound picture you make with the image of the crystal chandelier caught in the tide. I’m glad you got some snow, sounds like! And it’s no Oumuamua, but pretty soon a square-shaped craft laden with tiny, pockmarked orange suns will land by you. 😉

    1. The idea of those little suns helped buoy me up already, I assure you! And thank you for reading and your kind words, as always–it means so much to me.

  3. I know what you mean about the leaf litter becomng dull and listless. But your attention turned to the ice made for some lovely photographs and your descriptions of frozen water sounds were wonderful. Have fun looking for something new!

  4. I bought knee, wrist and elbow guards for all of us (though only the kids’ have arrived so far). And we wear bike helmets, too. Rahm slipped and hit the back of his helmet last time and it reminded me how important these layers of protection are. I also managed to really bruise my tailbone going over a jump on the sled hill so I’m forced to take it easy for a couple weeks, most likely (I definitely won’t be sledding, at least.) Is it snowing at your house this AM?

    1. Bike helmets are a great idea. Why don’t I think of these things?? Sorry you are bruised–these kids don’t realize how hard it is on us. Totally snowing this morning–it’s beautiful out.

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