- The Cold Fields of November
Down in the bushes the songbirds hop about. Chirping, chirping in clear crisp notes, they sing to one another.
Overhead the clumsy crows flap by, cawing, cawing in cacophonous rage against the beauty of the day.
Above the distant mountains, where yesterday a solitary hawk turned circle after circle, the sky is empty.
All Saints’ Day
A solitary tree atop a mountain rises straight against a cloudless sky, and I remember what the medieval painters would have seen: a cross devoid of depth, flat from head to foot, from nail to bloody nail, all lines of vision ending in the innocent agony of a dying man. We can’t say what they saw was mere distortion (any serf knew well the depth of hill and sky); nor can we say they saw no beauty in the world (like us they loved lush color, reds and blues and yellows split by smoke twisting up through icy air). We can only say they knew too well the limits of the flesh and caught on stark flat surfaces the truth that haunts me now in the cold fields of November. [End Page 30]
By the time a hurricane gets here all the roar of wind that sent gulls whirling, bent swaying palms until their trunks arched, drove waves in furious rhythm against the beaches, rocked boats at dock, hurled huts and shacks, one atop the other in exotic towns, is nothing more than rain and heavy mist. The mountains lose all definition, become dark walls, and the only sound’s the patter of water dripping from limbs and leaves and gutters. For a while one is content with the landscape— quiet, serene, bush and earth accepting whatever falls. Only when a bird rises through the mist or a deer pauses beneath sagging limbs, then darts away, does one recall the old delight in chaos. And, as the sun burns mist off the mountains and they take shape against a sky as clear and blue as any Caribbean seascape, one remembers once again the passion that dulled the stark reality of fear.
On these long summer evenings as I sit on the deck and scan the woods below me for a glimpse of creatures—birds, rabbits, maybe deer—sometimes I think I see wisps of gray swirl through the trees. At first I tell myself it’s just illusion, but then imagination, the old disease of youth, intervenes with its confusion of reality and truth until it seems I can’t rule out disembodied spirits searching for a place they deem [End Page 31] suitable for shrine and worship, a place fit for spirits no one anymore believes in. No one except an old man who rocks between a fading past and a shrinking future until wind stirs the leaves, then sways the trees, and the wisps of gray dissolve in fading light, become lost somewhere in the night.
In the Mountains
On mornings when no sunlight melts the frost solitude saps my mind and casts my body out into the spectral landscape to climb high above the valley pastures and walk mile after mile on mountain trails by labyrinths of rhododendron, over roots that twist like snakes beneath the steady thud and rustle of my boots as I rise from the frozen lake to where Wolf Creek is edged by threads of ice dangling from fallen limbs and rocks that break the flow and turn the water white. As always I’m mesmerized by the chaotic order of the flow as it spins and tumbles down the mountain to the lake where I started far below. Nothing else moves. On the stony hillsides brown leaves crumble and the sound of wind comes and goes like chants in ancient monasteries, chants I imagined years ago when, young, I thought the scattered stones beneath the rood and broken walls romantic, believed monks sang to celebrate their solitude. Now I stand in the shards of summer, [End Page 32] and all around the walls of mountains are capped by trees that rise, separate and distinct, like warriors awaiting the order to descend. Cold epic...