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Entries in #winter (4)


End Radio Silence

Apologies for the sudden absence. A hairline fracture sidelined me for a bit. I might have gotten a little too eager to bring my bike out in early spring, spurred on by the apparent success of the local Stockholmare in doing so. Didn't quite factor in the continued existence of occasional ice and slush.

That said, I'm healing! The orthopedist is so proud he told me to go away and not worry about coming back. I can't swim, do anything that might cause a fall (ie, running and biking) for six weeks, or do dishes. But I can, once again, type with both hands. And I can hold our cat down moderately well for his eye cream three times a day. So, progress.



One More for the Road

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Robert Frost's death, links to a few of his best-known works that you may not have read in years:

"The Road Not Taken," 1922

"After Apple Picking," 1915

"Mending Wall," 1915

The NPR story that drew this anniversary to my attention begins with the line "Next, we'll recall a poet of the modern era who didn't seem modern at all." I was listening to this piece on my headphones while making soup, and I immediately exclaimed, "Frost!" 

My husband, watching a basketball game in the other room, was a little confused, especially as it was above freezing today.

But in all seriousness, during my junior year of college I took a modern poetry survey course that began with Frost, whom I knew as I knew of other canonical poets. But there was so much I'd never even considered--that the paths in "The Road Not Taken" actually look pretty damn similar, if you examine the text closely. Might it be an old man justifying his choices to himself? The oft-seriously-quoted "good fences make good neighbors" line from "Mending Wall" is very clearly not intended to be read literally. Why people don't quote the opening lines more often is beyond me:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.


Frost's poems begin so simply, follow what we all assume is the intended, rhyming and rhythmic, trajectory of poetry that it is all too easy to simply give them a surface-level read. Many, lulled perhaps by the mastery of the aural qualities and the easily-snipped-out lines, do. But they are even more beautiful, and subversive, when you look just a little bit closer. And Frost himself, as you will hear if you listen to the Morning Edition NPR story, valued his privacy in his personal life as well.

(All of this--the deceptively straight-forward statements, the quiet, deep calm, the fondness for rural northern settings--makes me suspect that he must go over well with the Swedes.)

This time around, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" resonates with me most, for reasons that are probably both obvious and well-illustrated by this blog of late. In particular, I find myself reciting the last stanza, over and over. So here it is, in honor of the master:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.

I Didn't Expect This

So despite the weather--or, more accurately, because of it--I'm having a really hard time staying in to finish the novel. I'm so close. I'm in that magical part where things are just falling into place as though they were always meant to be that way, and it's SO much fun, so energizing, etc. (And I am in no way taking this for granted.) 

And yet. There's a whole lot of snow outside. There are only so many hours of daylight. And while my snowboots aren't quite as warm as I hoped, my parka is performing impeccably, and I sometimes even get hot. And I just found out about these spikes you can strap to your running shoes so you don't fall on your ass on the ice. And did I mention that I'm going to pick up a pair of used cross country skis tomorrow morning?? The boots guy stood me up, but I won't let that stop me for long. After all, what else am I going to do with a pair of skis and poles besides go ski in the giant snowfields and woods just next to our house?

It's pretty great out there. Sorry, locals. I love it. And fortunately for my novel, I do actually get down to work when night falls, which happens these days around 3pm. (Still love it.)

(All temps below in celcius. It's just so much more dramatic that way when it's cold.)


Here in November

Approximately 3:30 pm, mid-November, looking southwest. Doesn't get any lighter than in that direction.

The leaves are almost all gone, save for a late-turning bramble bush in the courtyard outside and some stubborn willows. The grass remains, for now; the snow that fell while we were back in California wasn't nearly enough to burn it out, not yet. But it'll go, too, in time. And the sun begins to dip below the horizon at about 3:30. Or maybe it's 3:20 now. I haven't looked in a little while, and we're still losing something like five minutes of daylight with each spin on our axis. 

As far as I can tell, complaining about winter in Stockholm is the ex-pat sport of choice. And maybe I'll partake once it's February, or worse, March. But for now, it's just above freezing, sometimes even closer to 10 degrees celcius (one of my favorite temperatures, as it equates exactly to 50 degrees farenheit). I can handle that kind of weather. I've only brought out my mega-parka once, when I went to get some pizzas while fighting off a cold, and it was still overkill.

Granted, there is the darkness. I've spent so much time asking myself what I think of the darkness that I don't really know what I think. It's light when I wake up, which is good, though I know that won't last. And five pm in the winter, regardless of where I live, seems like a very reasonable time for it to be fully dark. So it's really just about that strange window of darkness, now lasting for just over an hour, in the late afternoon. 

It's tricky, that hour or so. I have to remember that it's not dinnertime when I get hungry around four--just time for a snack. My work for the day isn't done yet, either, and if I plan on running outside, since I like to run in the woods, I probably should do so a little bit earlier than usual. It really is the flip side of summer, when I would consider maybe sort of winding down as the sun began to vanish, only to realize that it was already 10 pm. While it's probably treason to admit this in this country, in this month, that actually got a little annoying. When we went to New York in July, there were stars. I'd missed stars.

But it would be naive to expect that the weak winter daylight (or lack thereof, really) won't get to me eventually. When I told a friend of mine where we were moving, he responded, "Oh cool. I've always wondered how I would respond to an environment that extreme." I guess it really is that, when you think about where humans originated; we were/probably-still-are designed to live awfully close to the equator, and we haven't been away from it for that long, evolutionarily speaking. It might do strange things to our brains, the lack of warmth and daylight. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the so-called "vodka belt" is located entirely in the great white north. Alcohol is a pretty reliable pick-me-up, at least in the short term. Self-medication is nothing if not an indication of human adaptability at its finest. (And don't get me started on Nordic countries and coffee. What I miss most about food and drink in the States is decaf on demand. Yeah, I said it.)

But on the other hand, I'm actually a pretty decent example of the extent to which people have managed to evolve for life well away from the equator. Blond hair, blue eyes, pale pale skin--check, check, and check. Back in California I had to remember both my sunglasses and sunscreen, or I got burned. Literally. Forgot about that.

So we'll see how we get along over the next few months, the darkness and me. I'm really hoping I won't turn into the inverse of Al Pacino in that movie about murders in Alaska where he can't sleep because it's too light. (Eyeshades, Al. Eyeshades are a necessity.) But I don't actually know how it'll be. After all, we're only about a month out from the solstice, at which point it'll start snowing (I hope!) and gradually getting lighter. Right now I light candles, turn on the music, consider the gym, research basement jazz clubs--and think about those poor people up there in Kiruna, or worse, Alert, Canada. Now THAT'S darkness. I really don't know anything down here.