Jan 14, 2011
Cleave, v: to split with or as with a sharp instrument; to accomplish by cutting; to pierce or penetrate; to adhere, cling or stick fast; to be faithful.
January 12 was one of the worst weather days I’ve ever experienced. And I don’t use that adjective lightly.
Here at Brightside, I’ve suffered through incessant Spring winds that have shaken this unshakable log home to its core. Winds for which “howling” is equivalent to “sighing,” and would be welcomed, ohso welcomed in exchange for the braying, bawling, scratchy pounding of the hounds of hell on every window and door. Winds I simply could not withstand, yet within which I was forced to crawl.
Even fiercer winds against which I could not push open the kitchen door.
Surely I exaggerate? I assure you, kind sir, I do not.
Howling winds? Pish-posh.
Lashing rain? Check. Scouring hail? Check. Punishing heat? Check. Bitter cold? Check. Darkness so utterly complete that I could not see the fingers of a hand pressed palm to nose? Yes, that, too. But only once.
In other words, I’ve had my share of scary, self-admonishing, pull-thyself-up-by-thy-bootlaces moments where “weather” is concerned.
Nonetheless, January 12 was different. Why?
In the sub-zero 40 mph wind, it wasn’t annoyance or discomfort that mattered. It wasn't a case of mind over matter, but rather the matter of life and death. Simply put: This kind of weather could kill me. And I knew it.
All day long, it was as if Winter herself were poking a long, bony finger in my chest, making damn certain I got the message. And trust me, I didn’t need to hear her whispered words to get the gist.
It started when I awoke, continued not just during, but both before and after my time plowing, and didn’t end when I trudged out, through a frigid, windborne snow-cloud, to turn off the generator at 10 pm. Returning to the house, I stopped for a moment and stood as a figurine in a shaken snow-globe. I was, quite honestly, awed to find myself in such a rarified atmosphere, with windblown flakes like diamond shavings upwelling around me, subsuming me. Again I thought of the draw of the deep sea, of falling off an underwater cliff, a sensation every scuba diver knows as equal parts sinking and rising. I looked to the light of the house and walked toward it. I thought of stories I’ve read about the warm-bath-like peace that accompanies the process of freezing.
As I knocked snow off my boots, and pulled the storm door closed behind me, I wondered: How do they know? Those who write of the so-called calm that attends a frozen death. How do they know what it feels like?
And without the benefit of goose-down jacket and Thinsulate-lined boots, without the bright fluorescent light to guide me, would I succumb to cold, just as at least one other person has done, right here on this very ridge top?
How long would I last out here, alone, in the insistent, swirling, icy darkness?
I shut-out the cold when I closed the door, but I took the questions to bed with me.
This weather claims residence in the marrow of my bones. Life simply does not get more intimate than this. This weather pierces, penetrates, and adheres. This weather cuts even as it sticks. It cleaves.
As I lay in bed, I saw again the snow-wake spilling back from the plow-blade as it cut through the pristine bank. The hypnotic fact of a froth of snow brought to life by the application of a sharp instrument. An instrument wielded by me.
Yes, it's beautiful. Beautiful in the way pulling carrots from the earth is beautiful. Killing the plant to eat the root. Destroying so that one might live. At least for one more day.
The analogy is more apt than you might think. The snowdrift, like hunger itself, may be quenched, quelched, held-back today, but it will return with the next wind. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the day after. Make no mistake, it will return. Today's plowing, like today's pulled and consumed carrot, has no meaning whatsoever in the future. It doesn't exist.
The thrill of being the first human to cleave a snowbank is as undeniable as it is indescribable. The knowledge that it will reassemble itself behind me is, well, perhaps the nature of Life Itself rendered in momentarily observable form.
And aren't I the lucky one to get to experience such cleavability first hand? Yes I am. I most certainly believe that I am.
In large part, perhaps the largest part, that's why I'm here.
I continue to encounter those who miss this hard, harsh fact of my reason for being, who insist on imagining solitary existence on a remote mountaintop in almost entirely romantic terms. Which is to say, they think of it as a kind of idealistic, quixotic quest, somehow abstracted from the realities of not just modern life, but life itself. One extended Little House on The Prairie vacation. Aw-shucks and Isn't that sweet.
Well, yeah, sure. It's mighty sweet, life without the hassles of television and telephone and utility companies and road maintenance and 911 service. Yeah, it's simpler, being entirely dependent on oneself.
But such simplicity comes at a price.
Every moment here, life cleaves close.