Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Cold World

 The furnace already works overtime. When I walk outside I glance at the heat pump, feathered with frost and watch until the defroster kicks in and great loads of steam rise in the sun. The compressor drips, then runs in a stream, the condensate refreezing beneath it on the cold earth.
 This morning, as we bottomed out at 25°, an early snowstorm slides up the east coast, dropping nearly 20" in spots. It is a cruel harbinger of winter, still seven weeks away. This is the weekend of Halloween, kids in costumes, broken pumpkins scattered about. It should be pleasant still.

 But when I begin my walk in Sam's lane, this is what I find. Sycamore leaves, newly frozen in the nighttime air lay scattered across the driveway and crunch underfoot, their ribs etched in ice. The sun shines ... that's all I can say of the promise of warmth. It is bitterly cold, though calm.
 I look upon the house roof as I begin my trek and see where the chimney once stood. When our roof was replaced many years ago, the old furnace was removed, the roof covered with new particleboard, tar paper spread out and shingles laid upon that. Still, beneath the new roof the old chimney still belches heat ... just enough that the frost is melted in a dark rectangle that betrays its former location. The fireplace chimney, still there, slants a shadow across the roof and the risen sun melts a line across the roof. Likewise the second floor bath vent is dark and wet.

 That thin lane I walk, threading between open fields, is surely the coldest spot around. Without any cover, open in every direction, it is where the temperatures first plummet. This weed, still holding its flower head erect, is covered in feathery ice. The field which lies beyond is now crunchy stubble, whitewashed overnight. The sky is a thin blue, wrung out by the clear, cold.

 Another weed, still holding some of summer's yellow, is frozen solid.

 This Queen Anne's Lace is finished for the season, its flower long-faded, its seeds already scattered. While it is now a stark scene, it was prepared for this night. Its work is long done.

 Looking like some giant spider, this Queen Anne's Lace seems to be grasping with outstretched fingers. Each line of its stalk is etched with frost.

 And yet a last flower head seems closed up, clenched tight by the lateness of the season.
 For myself, the morning walk always begins cold but as the miles unwind, I never fail to become too warm. First I unzip my coat, hoping for a little moist heat escaping. Then I pull off my stocking cap and eventually fold down my hood. I drop my pace until I cool and then step briskly again. I think of those who live in the northeast, powerless (two million have lost power due to the snow on the still-leaved trees) and know they won't have the luxury of my sunny walk.
 The sun shines brightly. The jet contrails scatter and expand. The shadows of trees and the power poles shorten as the sun rises and slides south. In Farmersville, at least, an afternoon high above 50° is promised. But it is the icy morning that brings me to life again.

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