Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Simplicity

A couple of feet of snow on the ground makes the world look simple. I can't see the weeds in the yard left over from the summer, the maple and oak and ash leaves rotting their way back to nutrients, the moss on the patio that should have been scraped, the petty distractions of a life. Everything is just white and tucked in for the duration. Today nature makes no demands but shovelling.

I'm in Massachusetts this week, and it was a strange experience to drive here on Sunday and watch the snow piles get higher the farther south I came. The coast of Maine got very little from last Wednesday's storm, and it was an equally strange experience to be in Maine that day and watch heavy, wet snow coming in sideways off the ocean for 8 hours straight but melting immediately, leaving a couple of inches of slush. At the end of the day I could still see the logs waiting to be split, the garden detritus untrimmed, an essay asking to be re-written.

It's tempting to think that nature makes demands, portends omens, punishes or rewards. Weather is a particularly seductive siren (those Aussies must have done something bad to deserve all that flooding) but so is the sight of a deer or the sound of surf. But nature doesn't consider us. It's simple, really. It's humans that have the problem of self-consciousness.

Emily Dickinson said it best, in the last lines of poem 668:

Nature is what we know –
Yet have no art to say –
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

Not that we shouldn't try to say what we know, as she did every day of her life.

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