The wind blustered all night, setting off the motion sensor lights on the barn, and they flooded the front windows of the house. The snow fell ceaselessly and the wind pushed the snow into eerily rounded drifts. The extreme light and shadow from the cold flood lamps on the barn lighted a chill moonscape of fluid pallor. Though the temp was 25f the storm was ending as icy rain. These persistent breakdowns in the stability of the weather are troubling. We have thunder storms in snow squalls while the temperature is in the teens Fahrenheit; rain happens after a week of sub-zero cold; the sun is out, skies clear but snow flutters in the frozen bluster. Did not twister weather pop up around Atlanta the other day? When you ask people who do work outdoors in close association with nature about these persistent dilemmas, they seem confused, even aghast. Our planet is a small miracle of the cosmos. That fact becomes more and more evident as astronomers are able to learn about it. Might not an ignorance here or there break its delicate relationships? At any rate why take the chance? Who can prove precisely that global warming caused gridlock in Atlanta or the sudden explosion of green crabs in the clamming beds of Maine, a phenomenon eerie enough to trouble the hardiest soul? So on the other hand, who can prove that global warming did not? Therefore, why take the chance? or nuclear power plants or tar sands? Why take the chance? Funny how this home grown logic works for me, while another person would say, "So, why NOT take the chance?" They see it either way as an opportunity to go fracking, pipe-lining or nuking or anything else that happens to present itself as an "opportunity". "Jobs!" They shout. My logic becomes a weak-headed muddle. It is another subject I have decided to try not to think about.
Instead, the ritual of preparing the morning coffee presents itself. A quarter pound of Starbucks dark mixed with a pound of Wicked Joe Bella Maria makes a husky, strong extra-dark. There is also from the Bella Maria a delicate something or other that caresses the back of the tongue, a sweetness almost. Coffee lovers would say that my taste is too complicated. Our friendly neighborhood veterinarian, Don, made me a cup of tea from a fragment of what looked to be a dried up stump. It was a mushroom, he said, non-hallucinogenic. Don is a science guy, a familiar of scientific terminology. The rest that he said was beyond me. The tea's taste was also complicated. It was black as coffee and thick and hearty without any trace of bitterness beyond any tea I have ever tasted. We were at that time ending the sexual life of numerous feral cats, a complex work befitting the complex nature of this tea. And now I am into a further complexity with this stormy morning's coffee.
I grind three tablespoons of the beans for six seconds, drop it into the coffee pump. By now the water is boiling slowly. My well is a dug well, but the water in it comes from hundreds of acres of undeveloped hillside. When I count my blessings the fact that I have drunk good tasting water all my life is number one. I am among the minority who have enjoyed that particular blessing. I wonder exactly how small that minority is or will be. What about water on this morning when we have just got plenty of the solid variety? What about the Nile valley 3 or 4 thousand years ago? What a fascinating study that must be! All built around the daily presence of water without industrial sewerage. I try not to think about my ignorance concerning these matters. Mankind must have progressed in these three or four thousand years beyond the fresh air, clean water phase. We have computers! We have chemo! Our sacred rivers are polluted! I wonder how clear the air was in those dull, superstitious times. I wonder if the wise men of Chaldea died young of a tumor in the brain? There certainly is plenty to wonder about in mornings following an overnight storm. Maybe I should just drink my coffee, stare out my window and leave off the wondering.
To be honest, these vague notions are to me dangerously similar to hallucinations. Now I have serious subjects I am more knowledgeable about to remind myself of. I remind myself, as I do every day, to try not to say something so stupid and outlandish in a fit of irritation that no one will take me as a serious person. Why I would want to be taken as a serious person, I don't know for sure. For some reason I prefer to be thought of as a serious person. Needless to say that attitude winnows out a lot of stuff. I think it might not be so enjoyable to be a serious person. Isn't it "funner" to be silly and loose? I guess becoming silly and loose may be funner, but not funner enough to be worth it, considering the drawbacks. Actually that's an interesting thought for a snowy day like today. Except outside for a few errands and chores I'll be inside for most of the day. I leave a note in the litter of computer parts on my desk to consider at some point why idleness is not improving to the constitution. It seems to me that the people I have known who lived a fun life have been dead for a long time already. No! I cross it off the list for snowy day possibilities. A few of them who died young I was fond of. I think maybe I'd better try not to think about that idea too.
Say, this coffee is awfully tasty and hot. Here, I'll pour you a cup and we might have a chat. The gray dawn is coming up over the hills. Oh, thinking about things I probably ought not think about I almost forgot it was Valentine's Day! I have to write a nice note on the card I bought the other day just to remind my wife how long we have been married and how she is my best friend. I always buy chocolates, too. And yesterday she got a dozen roses. She was very happy. Simple things make her very happy. Almost anything makes her happy. I think I know quite a bit about that. It is something I could think about for a long time and maybe I'd get somewhere because it is something I know a lot about. I have tried to buy her non-simple things on birthdays and holidays, none of which worked out. If you have had everyday contact with some one person for ten years, I think you can say that you know something about her. That goes for things too. I am hitting close up to 30 years with her all told. But at times the ten years or even the thirty years rule for knowing a thing or two about something may be debatable. What looks simple, such as my Valentine, may not be so simple at all.
I have been reading a poem by John Milton called Comus. In Comus Milton's Lady gives up trying to explain to the magician Comus the sacred doctrine of Virginity, saying around line 785: "Thou hast nor Ear nor Soul to apprehend.../...the sage/and serious doctrine of Virginity." Meaning Comus is deficient in understanding, which, though a debatable opinion, is well enough said if you happen to be into Virginity. But further, said the Lady, which caught my eye: "And thou art worthy that thou shouldest not know/ more happiness than this thy present lot." Oh-oh, another idea I best not think about. I had supposed Comus was ignorant but I had no idea he might be unhappy, for he seemed rather jolly with his potions and his partying. Hard to tell why that poem has been bothering me so much lately. I think part of it may have to do with the lousy weather. Once I get out and gardening again, and working on my woodpile for next winter, and sitting in the barn in my rocking chair with my animals, I doubt I'll be thinking about Comus. My big task for the more temperate future is to make friends with a few of my de-sexed wild cats so I can give a few of them away. But big snow last night and the first signs of spring still at least four solid weeks away. I often thought Milton's Lady must have been in a bad mood that night she ran up against Comus. She had been out in the wild darkness, separated from her retinue and protective brothers, apparently disoriented. But now I think about it, or rather now I am trying not to think about it, she might have had something there after all. Comus might definitely have been missing something in terms of virginity. But the flowing of the waters on this our miraculous green place, industrial sewerage or not, don't have me in mind or Comus, his magic or not. In fact, they don't have Milton's Lady in mind, whether she may like it or no. The waters just flow toward the sea. Certain seasons the waters may overrun me and you and Milton's Lady. What am I doing reading that poem? I thought I put that poem away a long time ago, in my college days, when I knew perfectly well there was no such thing as Virginity. Though chastity was a word that bugged me because of my Roman Catholic upbringing. Well, so what if there is Virginity. Why shouldn't I be at my age by now beyond such worries? In my opinion old dudes still dogging it are ridiculous.
There are other things I like to remind myself of every morning. I have been awake, I mean I have been alive these almost seventy years. I haven't been intoxicated most of the time; I've enjoyed good health; energy level good, and so on. But I am presently damned if I can think of one subject I can be absolutely certain about. Certainty has passed me by like a pterodactyl. No wait! There's slavery. That's supposed to be over, thank God. Freedom! Democracy! Oh-oh, I might be a slave. I was for fifty years a member of the industrial proletariat. So far as I know that's still going on. They paid you, but they paid the slaves, sort of, to keep them alive. What good was a dead slave? I think numerous industrialists would be perfectly happy to have dead workers if only they could figure out a way to get work out of a corpse. And did you know that Hesiod and Virgil were big time slavers? And there is Dante, doin his thing, Virgil at his side! I think I should not think about that today.
And anyway it has become light enough to go out. The snow seems to be lessening. Soon Clay will come plowing. That is one thing I am certain about: Clay hasn't missed a trick in ten years. Broken throttle foot and all. He fell off a roof last summer. Three, four inches, and with the storm being over he shows up. Best I get off my sorry butt and all these uncertainties, clear away the vehicles to move. Pre-storm I like to arrange trucks, cars, stock trailers so Clay has room for a couple of clean swipes up the driveway. On this storm I want to hook the stock trailer to the truck and move it out of the way so Clay can curl back the pile. Who knows how much more snow we will get in March? Could be too much. That is the crying claim of plow guys late in a bad winter: there's no place to put the snow!
Looks like a few cracks in the clouds. Coffee is down to the dregs. Best get out there. I look forward to Clay's big Ford Diesel coming up the driveway. My driveway is long. He has a half ton of logs loaded in the pickup body. He rarely uses chains, and he never gets stuck. And I mean never. Everybody else drove me mad by getting stuck. He comes in with good rubber, big diesel roaring. Clay likes my driveway! I have never had to explain to him what not to do in order to avoid getting stuck; he figures it out for himself. As an added positive, he never runs into anything. Who is this miracle of common sense, this paragon? Just another country guy likes to plow, a smallish, red-haired fellow. Works reasonable, too.
In fact, here he is now. I jump into my snow boots. About a foot-and-a-half in the dooryard. A half-hour later he has pushed all of the snow out of the way. There is plenty of room to park my truck, the Oldsmobile and the stock trailer, and plenty of turn around too. Wouldn't be half a bad day to ride with him for awhile. He has to do a house on the highway and maybe he'll need help with a driveway on a hillside toward Sumner.
"Sure," I say, grabbing my snow shovel out of the snow pile. John Milton, the big pile of conundrums paper-clipped in a pile of sticky notes around the clutter of computer parts on my desk and the rest of all the puzzles I probably should not be thinking about can wait for another day. Today there is cleaning up after the storm.