Chisel Cold

In this dry season, winter arrives on a northwest wind that turns the river to blue pewter with cloisonné waves. The only respite is in the woods or on the far side of the barn. Dust, unusual here, swirls across the driveway and lifts off the paddock. Trees bend and squeak, doors slam out of your hand, ice gathers at one end of the pond, shards piling up on themselves and freezing into a miniature Fortress of Solitude.

Cold is a chisel. Go out undressed – as I did to take the phone to Quan – and its blade hits you bluntly, digging in and bruising your grain until there’s nothing to do but get back in and shudder it off. Bind yourself too densely and the cold glances off you, taking no wood, leaving you as you are.

But if you dress just right, keeping your breasplate and the sides of your neck warm and your ear tips of course while leaving your face clear and a few places for drafts to get in, then when you venture out into the sere and searing cold, it starts to shave thin layers off your summer rot, taking the bark and leaving a surface as smooth as a slate for writing a new you.

We take to asking each other why we live here, as the fall leaves get blown under the bushes, the water left for the animals freezes before they can get to it, the sun comes late, smiles wanly, and leaves early. We put things away along the waterfront and turn to the woods to keep our houses warmed and the cars working.

But secretly I welcome the cold: it chisels off conceits and illusions, reduces you to the little that’s needed for life’s necessity. “There’s so little of you left.”

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