Winter is that boy your mother warned you about

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You know the one that can’t keep his hands off you. Always trying to touch your bare skin. Winter always goes too far; you can ask him to stop, but he never will.

 

He’s like that wild boy in high school that spent all his time trying to be cool. Every minute of every day, as if being cool was all that mattered.

 

 

Sure, he brings you lovely presents, like that a line of snow-covered trees glittering in the sun, pretty as a rhinestone bracelet. But he’s cold-hearted and time after time leaves you out in the cold.

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He likes to keep you guessing. One day he’ll warm up to you a bit, and the next day he’s standing in the street, shouting sleet at you, wearing that white muscle T-shirt and pushing you around.

 

He’ll chase you in and out of buildings; stalking you and moaning like a lovesick calf.

 

The relationship seemed so charming in the beginning when he would throw down that sparkly white carpet every time you walked out the door. For the holidays, he filled the sky with confetti, and you loved it. These last few months, though, you’ve been living in denial, telling yourself you can get used to it. But you can’t.

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Winter has a cold and bitter heart. He thinks that pinching your cheeks and fingertips so hard you almost cry is acceptable. If you’re not careful, you’ll start believing that his behavior is normal. That, my friend, is a slippery slope to slide down.

 

When you finally tell him to get lost, he will wait on your porch every morning and blast you when you walk out the door. And as if that weren’t enough harassment, at night he’ll come by and rattle your windows, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf that he is.

 

Fool that you are, you think you can reason with him. You decide on a date that he will move on and out of your life. You get out your calendar and circle the day, embellishing it with flowers, hearts, and butterflies. (I really don’t know what your mother would say about that.)

 

Then on the very day marked for his departure, he shows up at your door, stomping his boots and flashing his icy blue eyes, as if to say, you are mine forever. Then he points to the trees he has decorated, and you have to slam the door shut because as mean as he is, he really is a great decorator.

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Me? I’m done with him. One of us has got to get out of town. If he’s not gone by the end of April, I’m going to have to leave or get some counseling.

 

Click the links to find the photographers: 
Snow pond   Firs   Rime

 

 

 

 

 

Is it 1984 yet?

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Spring has arrived, but winter has barricaded the door. I’m in a dark mood.

 

At times like this, I admit that I don’t always keep my paranoia on a leash. In fact, I often let it run wild, allowing it to chase hare-brained rabbits down various trails or follow the scent of little chickens warning that the sky is falling.

 

Naturally it’s not my fault I’m so paranoid. I blame it on the book 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know about your mind, but in my mind, for pure fear, no other book comes close. * On the dystopian spectrum, it’s on the far end of terror.

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On the other end, in what could be called the “happy” dystopia, lies Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. Published in 1932, it envisions a world of people manacled by drug-induced happiness, materialism, and sex, a world that sounds surprisingly like our own. Seventeen years later, post-World War II, Orwell published his book, depicting a world enslaved by fear, with a seemingly benevolent Big Brother in control of past, present, and future.

 

In the actual year 1984 at a panel convened to discuss Orwell’s dystopia and the modern world, the educator Neil Postman proposed that contemporary Western society reflected Huxley’s view of the future rather than Orwell’s. Postman equated the entertainment industry with the drug soma that people in Brave New World used to escape into happiness. The following year Postman published his insights in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so.

 

I tend to agree with Postman, yet North Korea stands as a reminder that Orwellian governments can and do exist. My own fear is that the two will blend, and we’ll end up with a Brave New 1984: a populace condemned to artificial happiness found in drugs, sex, acquisition, and entertainment, who relinquishes all control to a Big Brother who will not allow anyone off Paradise Island.

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While brooding through winter’s siege, I have been reading about school libraries closing due to budget cuts and others removing their books because of the availability of so much online information. Why bother funding libraries and librarians when you have Google? Why house all those dust-loving books when they can be downloaded and read on e-readers?

 

My paranoia and I find this disturbing. Online information is stored at physical locations. Whoever owns these data centers effectively owns the information, as does whoever controls the electricity and power grid that allows people to access the servers or charge their electronic devices. As long as there are everyone checks and balances, and everyone involved believes in net neutrality and open access, we are fine. But what happens if unchecked power controls access?

 

You can’t turn off a book. And you don’t need electricity to read one. We need books, and we need libraries full of books. Children especially need a place to go to explore the world of ideas, a quiet place to read books of their own choosing.

 

I’m not against e-books and online copies. I enjoy my electronics. They have their place, and that place is next to books, not in place of books.

 

Stitched Panorama

 

*Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road would equal 1984 on the terror scale if it were a sustainable world. It is a dying world that will end; the horror of 1984 is that there is no end in sight.

 

Photos: 
Big Brother: Paternm
Surveillance Cameras: Hustvedt
Books: © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Carried by hands

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Hand Reaching

She comes out to greet me in the waiting room. I haven’t been waiting long. It is at day’s end and my work is finished. During the wait, I scratch in my final words to tell her what I need. I will not need to speak anymore.

She leads me into the room. In the dim light I notice only the table and chair. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she says. I leave all of my clothes on the chair and wall hook; then I crawl under the covers and wait for the knock.

I lie on my stomach, my face cradled in the open circle at the top of the table. She turns on music, soft flutes and ocean waves.

I yield to her hands, oiled and searching. She finds my pain. Some aches I knew I carried; others lie hidden, deep within me. She seeks them out – knots of worry, muscles clenched, holding their breath. She forces them to breathe.

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The pain cannot leave me until I feel it. Worry, long-forgotten deadlines, and anger hide within, cling to my bones. Her hands draw them out.

She murmurs and I turn, eyes closed, heart and mind still. Inside this room, I am outside my life, an in-between place.

I arrived once just as I am now, unclothed, at the mercy of hands. My leaving will be like this. An angel will prepare me for the crossing over. Her hands will find my hurt and pain and carry it away. I have swallowed darkness and sorrow; it clings to my bones. But it will yield to those hands.

We shall not speak; my words, as they are now, will be left there in the waiting room.

Then she will push my barge into the waters and the music will carry me across. And there will be hands, familiar hands, waiting on that other side.

Grand Teton National Park

Back massage photo courtesy of Nick Webb   

Death in two parts

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I. Death is an empty place

 

The heart dies first, emptying slowly until its fragile shell sits silently in your chest. The lungs resist, hungry as wolves in winter, biting after the air, until they starve, buried in the noiseless snow.

 

The ragged-edged knife of sorrow scrapes the bones clean. Despair burns the bones to ash, washed away by what tears are left. The rest follows until you are hollowed out, your body weightless, floating through the world, tethered against your will.

 

The dreams are the last to go.

 

Only the echo of your voice remains. Your family, friends, and acquaintances fail to mourn you. They cannot tell the living from the dead.

 

But you know.

 

Death is an empty place.

 

 

 

II. Rising from the dead is harder than it looks

 

In death you grow fond of silence. You rest in the stillness, free from pain or want.

 

If you could only close your eyes forever, you could remain in that emptiness. But the world lies in wait. A leaf splattered with red and green falls and when you stoop to touch it, the sun’s fire scorches your hand. Longing with its pain enters you, furtively like a thief. The moon waits for you behind a hedge of cloud, reaches out and holds you like an old lover. Its soft light cleaves the darkness. In the distance, you see hope and turn away. Too late. One by one memories trudge back, dragging promises to fill the empty room.

 

The lungs resist breathing again. You dread that old hunger, the desire for air that can never be satisfied. Every breath seeks another and another.

 

Life abhors a vacuum; it forces its way back in. The daily meals, the work, the cleaning, the bills, the neighbors, the care of children, they all crowd into you, jostling for space, clumsy and needy. They crush that empty shell of a heart. You spend the rest of your life trying to put it back together again, looking for the pieces. It will never be the same. When your misshapen, patched-up heart finally beats again, you cry, because you know the heart is always the first to go.

 

 

In praise of my bed

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No other lover has been so faithful as you, who wait for me at day’s end, unmoved by my failures and lack of grace, ready to bear me up without complaint and hold me in your embrace through every dark hour.

Magician of the night, I give you weariness and you transform it into rest. I drink the great elixir you prepare for me and awake refreshed in body and soul.

You are the skiff I row to carry me from past to future across the Sea of Dreams, where I have drowned a thousand times.

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Atop your still rink, I glide and spin through the dark hours. When the ice melts, I fall beneath the depths, swim the length of night, and crawl to shore.

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You are the dance floor of my memories.

Each night I meet monsters, lovers, and my other selves, reincarnated from remembrances past. We play upon your darkened stage – dramas, comedies, and mysteries – to our forgetful audience.

You are the envelope I fold myself in to mail myself to tomorrow.

I plant the seed of me in your rich soil, grow new again, reborn each day older than the day before.

You are the cocoon I wrap myself in to shed my younger selves, all the people I used to be.

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I am sovereign of your continent, where I rule over a legion of dreams.

You are the sheet of paper on which I write stories of love and loss, tales too sad to tell or remember.

Unafraid I climb onto the ledge of night and jump. Then I wind myself in the shroud of yesterday’s me and die once more, until I can die no more.

Photos: skiff by phil smith    skater   cocoon

The care and feeding of an elephant

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At the circus, when you first see an elephant, you want one. Once you take a ride around the tent on its back, you tell yourself that one day you will buy one. You can see everything from up there.

 

 

When you grow up, everyone seems to have one. The circus does that to you. Elephants never forget and neither do the people who go there. But you, you don’t buy an elephant. You admire and enjoy other people’s elephants. But what would you do with one if you had it? Elephants can’t travel with you around the world. You would have to buy the entire circus, and you can’t do that.

 

 

Then one day, you stop traveling and you buy an elephant. You are thrilled and dismayed at the same time. Elephants require a lot of care. Depending on their size, they can eat up to 300 pounds of food each day. You have to provide water for drinking, at least 20 or more gallons per day, and extra water for daily cleaning. Their feet cannot be neglected, and unless you have training, you have to hire a vet to check them for you. Finally, you must consider waste. With elephants, dung happens. Regularly. When you least expect it. And at the most inconvenient times.

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I’m not complaining. I like my elephant. I’m doing my best to take care of it and learn all its quirks. At the end of the day, when I come back from work, it’s there waiting for me. I climb on its strong back and enjoy the view, trusting it to carry me into the future.

 

 

Because that’s what a homeowner does, right?

 

 

Front photo courtesy of fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au   
Back photo courtesy of SuperJew

Yesterday a wind blew

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Yesterday a wind blew – a wind without urgency, a wind that held me in its arms, a wind of promise. I recognized that wind from the dreams I have had since childhood. So many nights I have heard its call to fly and have soared across the skies of dreamland.

 

 

The wind yesterday waited outside my door. And as I walked, it called me to the sky. I raised my arms, just as I do in my dreams, almost believing that the wind would lift me up and carry me. And when my feet held firm, stayed in the world’s grip, I pretended to stretch. I have been taught to keep my dreams to myself, yet I raised my arms more than once, as much a gesture of love to the world and sky as a hope that I could fly.

 

 

A gauze of clouds rimmed the sky, diffusing the sun’s light. I walked further than I normally do, immersed in that cool, soft wind that gave and took my breath away.

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Later in the morning I saw the geese flying, carried by the same promise, arrowing across the sky to places I cannot go. I trembled at their loveliness and listened to their calls, a language strange and yet familiar. I watched them, and my heart stirred with a longing for a place I cannot name but want to call home.

 

 

What wonder is this that I could see the sky so blue, filled with geese, their cries filling the moment like a cup, brimful with joy, prepared just for me.

 

 

 

 

Photo on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/37804979@N00