Walking with my friend around a shadowed pond, -25 wind chills. We talked and talked and talked, ate tomato soup out of two ceramic cups while the wind floated snow between icy gusts. And then we slowly walked, holding crimson ears with the palms of our hands, ungloved to take a photograph of a tuft of cattail in the late day sun. Blue, windy, clear.
Wind blows thuds out of a spinning mind. The cold wakes me up. It is why I live here. The wind can be relentless. You don’t want to be caught alone, out in the frigid night.
There are stripes across the sky, white streaks of clouds, flurries whip against the naked elm, I sweep the deck with a stiff broom, bristles, John Deere green, rigid, a permanent swoop up, out, over the floor boards. Racing. Everyone is still racing to get somewhere, spinning out at stoplights, sliding on black ice.
I want to reach out a long arm, grab them by the scruff, and ask them to slow down. I want to say, “Go, walk on the pond in -23 wind chills, deer running off the peninsula, cinnamon cattail heads, bobbing, stiff, soldier tight, except for those little cottony streaks reaching up to the sun – go slowly, walk, then tell me again why it is you need to race.”
Winter slows me down. I get home just in time for supper. The cats are resting on the bed, deep warm depressions where their bodies curve back against themselves, paws over the ears, lick to the tongue, back over the ears again. I’m thinking about safety now. At the poetry reading and meditation last night, we were talking about maps, mind maps, the bubbles that extend out from the body, that tell us our place in space and time.
I’m not good at navigating. I can’t find my way without landmarks. I was talking about how strange it is to be in a large city for the first time with no landmarks to guide me. “It’s a matter of safety,” I said. “That’s a certain kind of fear.” And then we were talking about Tom Petty at the Superbowl and how Prince was better last year, sliding on his knees in the rain.
Athletes are good at mapping, at knowing where their bodies are on the field. It’s a skill, the well-developed map. It is not just in the mind. It’s physical, an extension of the body.
This was all after the hour of meditation and listening to the quiet, solid, succinctness of Ted Kooser. He writes about Iowa, sadness, farmlands, family, land, and hands. Lots of hands. I can relate to hands. Every word counts. He is not afraid for every word to count.
Why all the words? We don’t really need them. And if a picture is worth a 1000 of them, why talk? Why not color mandalas or strike a pose for a doodle on a plane to Portland. Or why not a photograph of a cattail burr gleaming in February sun. February is a strange month, that period between winter and the beginning of spring. The bear is having her cubs in a cave in the mountain, the fox and skunk are mating. How can it be this cold?
The three cats are stir crazy. Every morning we get up to shuffled and disheveled rugs, cabinets propped open, water and food bowls empty. “What were you guys doing all night?” I ask while I scoop Colombian into a gray plastic cone. Heat the thermos with scalding water. Careful, don’t burn your hand.
Safety is an illusion. We are never safe. It’s only the perception of safety that we cling to. I trust that if I walk the perimeter of the pond in a setting winter of sun, -25 degree skin, that I’ll make it back to the home to rub the hands together, and thaw the rigid fingers molded to the camera button.
It’s true. I thawed out and drove home. I made it this time. But what about the next? It takes a lot of faith to believe everything will be okay. What about trust. Is that an illusion, too.
I am not sad. No not today. I am thinking, pondering, reflecting. Yet I can’t trust these words in the head. They are only words. I try to move the cold down to the fluttering heart. The heart, it works harder to keep me warm, to keep blood pumping to the extremities. The body says, “Wait, first feed the brain, the heart, the head. If I have to give up a few fingers to do that, I will.”
Strange, this notion of safety.
I used to be drawn to rust. I was anemic and my body was drawn to anything that was iron. I started to love the color orange and dragging rusty objects home to sketch and photograph. A piece of door to a rusty potbelly stove, rusty pulleys and cables, a bike chain, frozen in place – it all got incorporated into my art. I’m no longer anemic. But I still photograph pockets of rust, what is decayed and riddled with wormholes, the leftovers, the forgotten.
I like what is abandoned and left behind. I’ve had that feeling in my heart before. My body relates to rust.
Just now a tattered, hollow leaf turned by the window, floating on the wind, the way the witch pedaled her bike in the Wizard of Oz. Determined, it crackled and looked straight into my eyes. Another haiku.