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Posts Tagged ‘winter’

Strange Sights Much Sought, Strange Things Much Bought

December 9, 2014 | by

December through the eyes of an Elizabethan poet.

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Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, ca. 1608.

It is now definitely December. Another November survived, and a grim November it was, too, the month Thoreau used to call November Eat-heart—days “as will almost oblige a man to eat his own heart,” in which “you must hold on to life by your teeth.” “You can hardly screw up your courage to take a walk … If you do feel any fire at this season out of doors, you may depend upon it, it is your own.” Even the life-affirming Nicholas Breton goes dark: “Now begins the Goshawk to weed the wood of the Pheasant, and the Mallard loves not to hear the bells of the Falcon. The winds now are cold, and the Air chill, and the poor die through want of Charity.”

Breton, ca. 1554–1626, was a prolific Elizabethan poet, friend to Edmund Spenser, with a penchant for powerfully balanced rhythms (“Sing a dirge on Spenser’s death, / Till your souls be out of breath”), but he’s justly forgotten today. Justly except for his fantastic Fantasticks: Serving for A Perpetuall Prognostication (1626). Along with lesser vignettes on the elements, seasons, hours, and major holidays, Fantasticks contains twelve little descriptions of the months that deserve to be immortal.

Starting in January, when “Time begins to turn the wheel of his Revolution,” Breton’s vivid natural and social descriptions march steadily through the year: “the Squirrel now surveyeth the Nut and the Maple, and the Hedgehog rolls up himself like a football”; in June, “the little Lads make Pipes of the straw, and they that cannot dance, will yet be hopping”; in September, “the winds begin to knock the Apples’ heads together on the trees, and the fallings are gathered to fill the Pies for the Household.” Each month ends with a kicker as balanced as a brace of oxen: May “is from the Heavens a Grace, & to the Earth a Gladness. Farewell.”

Here is December: Read More »

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I Scream

August 7, 2014 | by

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Photo: Zechariah Judy

As a child in suburban Connecticut, I had always considered the purl of the Good Humor truck to be more closely akin to a cricket’s chirp or the sound of summer rain: a seasonal gift, wreathed in sweet associations … [but] it is a grave error to assume that ice cream consumption requires hot weather. If that were the case, wouldn’t Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have established their first ice cream parlor in Tallahassee instead of Burlington, Vermont, which averages 161 annual days of frost? … Wouldn’t John Goddard, an outdoorsman of my acquaintance, have arranged for a thermos of hot chicken soup instead of a half gallon of French vanilla ice cream with raspberry topping to be airdropped to him on the summit of Mount Rainier? And wouldn’t the Nobel Prize banquet, held every year in Stockholm on the tenth of December, conclude with crepes Suzette instead of glace Nobel? As the lights dim, a procession of uniformed servitors marches down the grand staircase, each bearing on a silver salver a large cake surrounded by spun sugar. Projecting from the cake is a dome of ice cream. Projecting from the dome is an obelisk of ice cream. Projecting from the obelisk is a flame. When the laureates—who have already consumed the likes of homard en gelée à la crème de choux fleur et au caviar Kalix and ballotine de pintade avex sa garniture de pommes de terre de Laponie with no special fanfare—see what is heading their way, they invariably burst into applause.

—Anne Fadiman, born today in 1953, from her essay “Ice Cream”

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“Snow Is a Hat Worn By Mountains”

February 13, 2014 | by

snow

Some might suggest that for a literary blog to feature three snow-related posts in a day is excessive. Well, tough. The weather has always been a great common denominator. And to our credit, we’ve refrained from calling this “Winter Storm Pax” or “the snowpocalypse.” We have standards.

Here, then, are seven poems from our archives fit for a snowy night. I won’t claim they’ll warm or comfort you—they’re poems, not pap—but they’re terrific reads, and they will be of some help. Next time you share an elevator with a distant colleague, you’ll use the weather as a conversational crutch, as one does; but instead of saying, “Man, it’s cold out!” you’ll say, “Snow is a hat worn by mountains.” You’ll make a lasting impression.

Note, too, that the majority of these poems were published in the spring or summer: a reminder that what’s unendurable now will be desirable in a few months’ time.

Debora Greger, “To the Snow” (from The Paris Review No. 154, Spring 2000)

Snow, let go. It’s late,
You are cornmush. You are cold.
Let me cover you with this white sheet.
No one will know.

Agha Shahid Ali, “Snow on the Desert” (from No. 107, Summer 1988)

the sliding doors of the fog were opened,
and the snow, which had fallen all night, now
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus.

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Ice—It’s More Than Just Frozen Water!

January 8, 2014 | by

ice caves of france

Lower Glacière of the Pré de S. Livres, 1865, an illustration from Ice-caves of France and Switzerland.

 

If ice has lost all its wonder and the world feels to you like little more than a refrigerated truck, spend a few minutes with Ice-Caves of France and Switzerland: A Narrative of Subterranean Exploration, George Forrest Browne’s 1865 account of his journeys into the glacières of Chappet-sur-Villaz, La Genollière, and other such exotic Continental locales. The book’s tone is, as its title might suggest, implacably British, and Browne makes for an almost risibly agreeable narrator. The man simply loves to describe ice.

It did not separate under the axe into misshapen pieces, with faces of every possible variation from regularity, that is, with what is called vitreous fracture, but rather separated into a number of nuts of limpid ice, each being of a prismatic form, and of much regularity in shape and size.

A contemporary reader might expect some harrowing brush with fate, but this is not Into Thin Air. Browne is largely content to stay out of harm’s way:

It would be very imprudent to go straight into an ice-cave after a long walk on a hot summer’s day, so we prepared to dine under the shade of the trees at the edge of the pit, and I went down into the cave for a few moments to get a piece of ice for our wine.

And lest you tire of his meticulous accounts of ice formations, you’ll find relief in the more mundane details of his travelogue:

A counter-irritant appeared in the shape of a fellow-traveller, whose luggage consisted of a stick and an old pair of boots. The man was not pleasant to be near in any way, and he was evidently not at all satisfied with the amount of room I allowed him. He kept discontentedly and doggedly pushing his spare pair of boots farther and farther into my two-thirds of the seat, and once or twice was on the point of a protest, in which case I was prepared to tell him that as he filled the whole banquette with his smell, he ought in reason to be satisfied with less room for himself.

 

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Truth in Advertising

January 3, 2014 | by

library cold sign

As the Northeast is battered by “Winter Storm Hercules”—a nor’easter all but destined to enter Wikipedia’s list of notable nor’easters—one public library has provided succor, sort of. In Hopkinton, Massachusetts, a redditor came across this sign; to its great credit, it suggests neither burning books, nor reading erotica aloud, nor any other heat-generating gimmickry. Rather, it stands as a stark, charmingly blunt reminder that though literature may warm the soul, it will never warm the body.

Curl up with a good book today, but don’t try to be a hero: curl up with a blanket, too.

 

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December

December 2, 2013 | by

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Image via Papergreat

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” —Edith Sitwell

 

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