Violent snow

When I heard that snow was in the forecast here, I sneered. Something called snow has been seen here: early in the morning, dusted like frost on the fields, collected by shallow puddle-basins into white blots.

Nature has instructed my disdain.

I woke to look out on a white world, a white weird and awful as the white hand of Moses. Snow lay thick on the roof, thick on branches, thick on evergreen leaves. Snow had inverted the forest: straight-trunked trees that reach branches up to the sun, instead lay them down along their sides, like fronds of Christmas trees; titan limbs of spreading live oaks that float twenty feet in the air, strong as iron and thick as pillars, curved under the weight of the snow loading their leaves until they arched against the ground.

And the snow was still falling: wet, heavy snow, good snow for snowmen and snowballs, falling so fast and thick that I could hear it. I cannot compare the sound. And faintly, from deep in the woods, came another sound like war guns or holiday fireworks—the first cracks of breaking branches.

Snow on trees.

My last snowfall fell ten years ago: weeks of etherealizing snow on the Pine Barrens, a slow, thin, steady fall like the gradual deposition of a pearl, and still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

So I put on a helmet, grabbed a camera, and walked out, listening for the warning sounds of snapping branches; stepping over branches I knew only from beneath, over ranks of hedges that lay prone as sleepers after long days.

Snow on path.

Along the way, in the shelter of the Quonset hut, I looked back into the woods and saw—too fast to watch—a 60 foot tree (it must have been dead) simply slide three lengths past one another and disappear like a closing telescope.

Snow on Quonset hut.
Beyond the Quonset hut, the field.

Snow on field.
From the field, back to the house, where disaster had arrived. I lost the stomach for pictures. Each casualty was the same: first, the fatal shot; then, as if in shame of defeat, the slough that sends up a white lace veil; last, so many tons of wood swing or plummet almost silently into the muffling snow.

It went on for hours, snow piling impossibly on the green leaves. It was indeed good snow for snowmen: the snow made its own snowmen over the leaves, half-formed homuncular snowmen without faces.

Hour after hour I watched a day's snowfall work so much destruction that perhaps a human lifetime will not see it all repaired. As after hurricanes, the debris will go, and the summer's growth of leaves will hide the rest. They hide much. The forest grows; wind and now snow destroy; and though I live here, I do not know anymore which is winning.

Three days later, it was warm enough to breed mosquitoes. Ten days later, winter was declared.


The only virtue worth instilling in a child is to acknowledge mistakes without shame and to correct them without perversity. If a vice is worth avoiding because it is dangerous, then in time it must manifest itself as a mistake; so all that is worth teaching is that if a mistake is shown to you, you should take it as a favor; and that there is no shame in a mistake, except loyalty to it.

To acknowledge a mistake is not the same as to reflect on it. Sometimes, when you have taken on a serious responsibility and made a mistake with irreparable harm, then indeed you should be asked, and should ask yourself, just what is wrong with you. But, for most mistakes, to reflect on the mistake is to compound it. Inevitably, if you do many things, you will make some mistakes: the only way to avoid all mistakes would be to do nothing—which is a mistake of life.

Capricious punishment is the most demoralizing condition possible: there is more cruelty in mild punishment for no reason, than in the harshest punishment for clear reason. Such punishment, if sustained, is too horrible even to rouse the will to die; it puzzles the will altogether.

To search out secret sins to blame for the statistically inevitable is to punish yourself with such random cruelty. And even when a mistake does follow on a medicable fault, self-reflection is the worst way to discover it. Reflection is so hard that, after the difficulty of the inquiry, only a dramatic answer seems plausible; so you end blaming depravity for what is due to indigestion.

The virtue must be instilled, because it is difficult to acquire. It slows the development of a sense of identity; for the contempt for the corrections you receive from certain kinds of people is how you distinguish yourself from them. It is probably impossible for an unpracticed adult to acquire, since to do so would be to have to bear to think that what seemed the limits made by nature were only the perimeter set by prideful error.

This virtue is so rare, and so unreliable even in those who sometimes have it, that you may ask if it is worth having at all. I cannot assert that it is. Can it really be good—if it is right, is it wise—to be without shame among those who blame you? And though this virtue removes self-set limits, it may thereby only cost you more time making slow progress where your talents do not lie, than if you have, at the difficult outset, simply chosen pride in your incompetence.

Yet I believe it is a virtue; the more so because, like all virtues, it can be immoderate. A little uncertainty about your nature saves you from overspecialization and obsolescence; and a little time wasted in spreading your roots, saves you from exhausting the soil.

Nondefinition #29

Eer. A bodiless, malevolent supernatural being. Eers must not be confused with ghosts: a ghost is a remnant of a human being; an eer never was alive. Formerly, cities were inhabited weirdly by ghosts; but since the beginnings of urban sprawl—deprived of their natural habitats in wastes, wilds, and deserts—eers have become common in cities, where their prolific breeding displaces the native population of ghosts. Many young people today have never experienced a real ghostly whisper or flicker in the corner of the eye; sadly, they take it for granted that all silence and dimness is eerie.

A memory of infancy

I believe that anything can be said: that there are always words, though not always the strength to find and use them. Anything that can be experienced can be communicated. Communication from one mind to another cannot be perfect; but it can match the imperfect communication by way of memory between yourself then and yourself now.

This is a test case. I have what seems to be a memory of infancy. I do not not insist that it is true; it could be a neurological glitch. Nonetheless, it is an interesting problem of expression.

I call it a memory, yet I cannot remember it directly: I must remember being 11 remembering being 6 remembering. Eventually this chain must slip away from me; that it another reason to write this.

Again, I call it a memory because I have access to it by remembering; yet it is unlike other memories. It is smooth, hard, incapable of subdivision. It contains no data. In itself it is more of a feeling than a memory—as if at that stage the faculty of feeling supports not broad, generic emotions, but discrete pegs of experience. When I remember, the memory is not retrieved; it comes over me, I feel it as if I were feeling an emotion.

The senses are not distinct. They do not blend; there is no cacophony or synesthesia; instead, the senses are one—one unitary sensation that is not processed as sight or hearing or touch or smell, but absorbed as emotion. This one sense subordinates not only the familiar five, but also proprioception, one's awareness of one's own body. There is a quality to the memory like marshmallowiness—an association, not a translation—that I think is the best my adult brain can do in rendering an experience recorded by such an alien scheme of proportions and powers.

Something happens—something unpleasant. My best guess is that I am receiving an injection. The memory somewhat resembles that strange nauseating feeling of a needle under the skin, but magnified until—fleetingly—it becomes my entire experience of the world and myself.

World and self are not distinct. Because no such concept as control yet exists, I have no way to tell what I can control—myself—from what I cannot control—world. I do not experience the world as part of myself; I do not experience self; I just experience. Note that though this is an unpleasant memory, the distinction in an adult between something bad that happens to one (with anger, indignation, or fear) and something bad that one does without meaning to (with embarrassment, shame, regret and uncertainty)—this distinction is absent. The simple unpleasantness of something bad happening here compasses both—though, without future, I am without fear or uncertainty.

In this alien being that I was, I recognize only one thing.

Imagine that you have just taken up something very interesting, but which you know nothing about. You throw yourself into it. You learn fast, getting your bearings, absorbing the terms of art, feeling out the areas of concern. It is like hunger—better, it is like a stomach: a void with agency, to assert its need or satiety.

This, infinitely amplified, is what I recognize: the absolute ravenous void where words would be.


Three inches was a miracle; eight inches was a disaster. The snow did more damage than Katrina. I may report further later.


For several days Feedburner has stopped reported no RSS subscribers for the Ruricolist at Bloglines. There are two possible problems (beside mass defection): either Feedburner is not reporting the subscriptions correctly, or the subscriptions are not working. If you are reading this via Bloglines, be so kind as to let me know if it is working; or, if you use Bloglines but have come here directly, let me know otherwise.

10 inst. This is apparently a known issue. Nonetheless an independent test was in order.

Nondefinition #28

Guitar. The occult instrument: not played, but addressed with secret hand-signs, transient hieroglyphs of a Mystery whose hieratic rites are carried out before audiences; one hand for Apollo, quiet, smooth, rapid, precise; and one hand for Dionysus, simple, restless, free and frantic; and the whole portable, companionable as a familiar, the conjurer's circle wherein the shade of the ideal orchestra is called up and given voice to tell its secret.

Three Short Poems

[Nondefinitions should resume next week.]


In summertime I cannot dream of winter;
In wintertime I cannot trust in summer.
On swaddled days when sunlight blasts to wither
And waxen thoughts run free in melted measure—
A knife against my skin lets me remember
How cold and sharp and clean and cruel is winter.
By canvas skies, in forest bare of shelter
When buried growing things are gone forever
A traitor sweat makes fever out of labor
And poison salt is all I know of summer.

The Sun in the Sea.

A lamp is behind each dream.
It burns like the sun in the sea
That shining from beneath
Through every sea-changed thing
(And every sea-born thing
That spreading rises from
Abyssal memory)
Stains the surface with shadows.
The endless dropping rain
Of the microscopic dead—
The easy dives of whales,
The gliding course of squids,
The straining submarines—
The billowing rise of steam,
The building rise of lava—
Are sketched inside the waves
In symbols, shapes and shadows
Cast by the lamp of dreams.

Ballad Meter.

You think that you have won today
   You hold your banner high;
Your smile, your dance and shouts all say,
   “My glory cannot die”;
But the sun is poised on the point of day
   To fall on the evening sky.