All the Mysterious Comforts of Winter

Image: 'Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,' by Tuur Tisseghem (large)

[Image: “Black Boulangerie Alsacienne Food Truck,” by Tuur Tisseghem. (Found it at Pexels; thanks!)]

From whiskey river (italicized lines):

Skating in Harlem, Christmas Day

To Mary Jo Salter

Beyond the ice-bound stones and bucking trees,
past bewildered Mary, the Meer in snow,
two skating rinks and two black crooked paths

are a battered pair of reading glasses
scratched by the skater’s multiplying math.
Beset, I play this game of tic-tac-toe.

Divide, subtract. Who can tell if love surpasses?
Two naughts we’ve learned make one astonished 0—
a hectic night of goats and compasses.

Folly tells the truth by what it’s not—
one X equals a fall I’d not forgo.
Are ice and fire the integers we’ve got?

Skating backwards tells another story—
the risky star above the freezing town,
a way to walk on water and not drown.

(Cynthia Zarin [source])

and:

You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there — the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall. All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home, which is no less shimmering and white as it falls. The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence. It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at, but unless the child in you is entirely dead, it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way, before your defenses are up. It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.

(Frederick Buechner [source])

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Grace at a Distance, Grace Close at Hand — But Grace

[Image: “Winter Forest Illustration,” by Jim Basa. (Found it on Pexels — thanks! — and used here in reduced scale; the thing is huge.)]

From whiskey river:

Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness. Are you willing to do these things even for a day?

(Henry van Dyke [source])

and:

Laugh and be Merry

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth,
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

(John Masefield [source])

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Winter’s First Week

Cover: 'December,' by George Winston

A bit of a changeup from the usual Friday routine here. Let’s start with a couple of things not from whiskey river (because, well, why not)…

...a song for winter

…and:

Christmas Trees
(A Christmas Circular Letter)

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”

“You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

(Robert Frost [source])

…and:

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

(Nancy McCleery [source])

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Still, Life

'Snow Face, Straight On' (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a winter photo by Janet Nezon

[Image: “Snow Face, Straight On” (2011): Gus, the Labradoodle, in a wintry photo
by Janet Nezon at her
Lessons from Gus blog]

From whiskey river:

…It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it… I know that sounds a little pious.

(David Foster Wallace [source]

…and:

Motto

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

…and:

Pleasures

First look from morning’s window
The rediscovered book
Fascinated faces
Snow, the change of the seasons
The newspaper
The dog
Dialectics
Showering, swimming
Old music
Comfortable shoes
Comprehension
New music
Writing, planting
Traveling
Singing
Being friendly.

(Bertolt Brecht [source])

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Midweek Music Break: Heather Masse, “Mittens”

Heather Masse/portrait by Siri Knutson

[Heather Masse portrait by Siri Knutson]

In a Midweek Music Break a year or two ago, I featured folk/Americana/bluegrass/roots-music/whatever trio The Wailin’ Jennys, specifically their rendition of the classic “The Parting Glass.” They recorded that performance in 2004; at the time, the Jennys’ lineup did not include alto-voiced bassist Heather Masse (who joined them in 2009). Like the others, she also has a successful solo career: her first album, Bird Song, came out in 2011, and 2013 will see the arrival of her second. (She took time out to have a baby in August. And — whew! — a few months before that the Wailin’ Jennys won a Juno Award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year, for their album Bright Morning Stars.)

On the evidence of Bird Song, at least when flying solo Masse seems to favor an interesting blend of roots music inflected with jazz. Among the examples on display throughout the album, here’s the song which closes Bird Song, “Mittens.” Love the instrumentals in this number, especially.

I chose the photo above because — especially in context with this breeze-blown snowflake of a song — she looks like, well… not the Ghost, exactly, but maybe the Sprite of Winter Present.

[Below, click Play button to begin Mittens. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 4:27 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

[Lyrics]

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