The sky is newspaper,
the print flown
to join the black birds
the leeward sides
of highway signs.
The big story is air,
Arctic breath that burns
away our words.
Silent and stunned,
we gather to witness
the marvel of ice
surviving in the wild.
This poem grew out of this stone.
I’m happy to say that I was able to write one small stone each day in January as part of the river of stones challenge. (I posted them over at a gnarled oak where they crosspost to various social media platforms.)
There is something in finding time to stop for a moment, engage, see, and try to write, creatively, what is seen that strikes me as prayerful, a sentiment I’ve mentioned here before. It has the capacity to change—for the better—the way we see and interact with the world. There is peacefulness in it too, and I had almost forgotten that.
Starting the year with this simple approach to opening has been a joy and a pleasure, and so hats off to Fiona and Kaspa for setting the river flowing and reminding me of the importance of slowing down to witness the wonder of even the most ordinary of moments. These moments are, after all, the stuff from which lives are made, if not remembered and celebrated years later.
I plan to continue doing these each day by making it part of my daily writing practice again. That was always my intent with a gnarled oak when I started it two years ago, but I fell off over time, and weeks would sometimes go by with nothing. They say doing something for 30 days will make it a habit, so we’ll see if that’s true.
Fall begins tonight, at least that’s what They say. We’ve got some summer days ahead (though not everyday), but I’m excited even if it is like Christmas without snow or cold. There are many reasons to love fall in central Texas even if the leaves don’t change colors like they do up north.
Maybe it’s the light and the way it changes in the fall as the sun follows those migrating birds south. There is too much light here five months of the year. Everything seems blasted, washed out and flat. Photographs with white skies. The autumn light throws things into sharper relief so everything around jumps out, though it was all there all along, hidden in the haze of light that melts everything it touches into flatness. There are discoveries to make this time of year now that the heat no longer blinds.
Maybe it’s the southbound migrants passing through and the winter residents arriving. The orange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers, the chipping sparrows and kinglets coming back. Fall and winter are great times for birding here since as many species are coming as going. So long, scissor-tails, swallows and kingbirds. Hello, ducks.
Maybe it’s the simple fact that being outside is enjoyable again. Now that fall is upon us, the weather is finally beginning to change just ever so slightly. It’s still humid but the heat behind that humidity is down, and I can once again enjoy creeping out of my air-conditioned cave to enjoy the world.
Most days, I take a walk at lunch. It’s an even mile around the facility where I work and, and I like to walk that mile. It’s good to see the weather and hear the birds, to feel sun and wind in the middle of a day spent in a windowless classroom. It recharges me for the afternoon and lets me unwind as well. When the planet begins to skirt close to the sun as it does in late April, my walks stop and usually don’t resume until mid-September since I can’t stand returning to class sweaty and smelly. I took my first lunch walk of the new school year yesterday, enjoying the calls of the killdeer that live in the fields around the building.
Those walks are the source of many of the micro-poems I post at (the new and improved) a gnarled oak so the micro-poems, like many of our plants, dry up a little in the summertime. So does a lot of my writing. I don’t know why, but it’s better to write when the world is cooler and darker. It seems there’s more to say, more of a need to say it. A fall bloom, if you will.
When I was in high school in New England, spring was such a joy. An annual awakening that seemed to lift everyone from the darkness. Here in Texas things are turned around. Here, it is autumn that awakens as I find myself celebrating the release from the blazing light and heat. Excited again by the opportunity to reconnect with the outdoors.
Or maybe it’s just football.
Whichever way, it’s fall. Time to get outside again.
There are some things that make the world spin a little slower. One of those is snow in Austin. Not the icy rain and sleet we get every few years that shuts the city down, but real snow. The light fluffy stuff you can use to make snow men and snowballs to hurl at your colleagues in the parking lot.
I work a good fifteen miles north of where I live and up there, the snow really accumulated and even covered the grass in some of the nearby fields. Along the neighborhood trails, there wasn’t quite as much, but it was good enough for someone to make this pissed off looking snow man. He’s probably upset that it’ll be sunny with highs in the 50s tomorrow when spring comes back.
After work, I took a walk down the trail to see what it looks like in snow, since it hasn’t snowed since we’ve lived here. I walked to the bridge, figuring the area around it would have the greatest accumulation, but the trail had been well-walked today. I took the above picture thinking it might make a nice contrast with this one I took last summer.
I walked down to the pond to check on the ducks (Gadwalls, Ring-necked and American Wigeon). They were huddled together in the reeds on the near shore. I watched them paddle about and tried to think of when it’s snowed like this here.
I don’t remember ever seeing real snow accumulating in the 22 years I’ve lived here other than one day in Dallas when all of us working at a video editing company stood out on the fire escape and watched it snow while the pawn shop next door burned down.
No fires today, which is fine since it wasn’t really all that cold by the time I got out on the trail. Most of the snow had melted off and there wasn’t much in the way of accumulation, but it was nice to see the trail in a different way, which is, I think, the magic of snow days when you live in a place that doesn’t have them.
These kind of days are good for their slow stillness and silence and the way sometimes nature changes the rules just a bit to remind us to stop and pay attention.
On the way back home, I saw these sticks poking out of the snow. They reminded me of runes, though I have no idea what they might mean. If they said anything, perhaps they were one more reminder to witness the mystery and be awed by it.
Coming from New England it’s hard not to smile when everyone freaks out about the occasional ice storms. I know that most people who aren’t used to driving in icy conditions can have problems, and it’s been seventeen years since I lived in Rhode Island so I’m sort of one of those people now, but I just don’t dread these kinds of fronts. In fact, I love them.
Right now, the sky is a dark, hard gray and the trees are swaying gently back and forth. It’s nice to go outside for a few minutes and remember how much I wish for days like this when it’s 108 degrees in September. Given the choice between heat and cold, I prefer cold, but my brother makes a good case to the contrary when he points out that one never has to shovel hundreds of pounds of heat out of the driveway. Still, I’ll enjoy the cold while it lasts.
So I take it all in. The air – damp and cold – rattles my lungs a bit; the wind bites and stings. At first it doesn’t feel too cold, and I wonder what the big deal is (The University of Texas closed at 2:00) but then it works its way in, and I start to really feel it. I love staying out past that point, just starting to shiver, before going in for my coat. I wish it would actually snow or at least ice over enough to shut the city down for a day or two, but that’s a bit too much to ask. By Friday I’ll probably be wearing shorts again.
We’re getting one of those leaden-sky cold fronts that comes through every now and again. Looking out the window, I see that the sky now displays a vaguely striped pattern. The light is very cold, very blue, and finally wintry looking. The trees hardly move, and I can’t see a single bird. I love being outside on days like this when everything seems quiet and just waiting.
One of the things I love about Austin is the weather between late November and the end of the year. The torture of October Allergies (for me) is over, making it a pleasure to be outdoors again during the best time of year for it, and the first real cold fronts begin to arrive like the one that came in yesterday and caused me to break out my coat. I probably didn’t need it, but I have to justify the space it takes up in my closet on the few days of the year on which I can do so.
Even rush traffic isn’t so bad when the city sparkles in the crisp air like it did last night and again this morning. It’s the time of year when I remember I have a telescope (which will be on the agenda for this evening) and find that it’s actually worth setting up in the yard as the stars just seem to jump out of the sky.
It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago, I was standing in my front yard, amid fallen leaves staring at the pumpkins on the porch while wearing shorts and sandals wondering if it would ever cool off. Now that it has, I’ll be sure to enjoy it. Summer is afterall only a little over a month away.