It’s the miracle of ice that pulls me down.
Not down in the literal sense, or in psychological terms, but down out of my thinking brain into a childlike state of awe. I say “down,” because I still believe the mind is a lofty achievement of evolution in our species, complex and ambiguous, as full of darkness as of light. Down to earth, down to the essentials.
I am always relieved to find that marvel has not been extinguished in me, and nothing reminded me of that more in the past week than the ice. It was destructive and a nuisance, a costly twist in the weather and a force with consequences that some trees will need years to repair in themselves.
The canopy is not ruined but this has been a calamity at best. Some cities are saying that as much as 30 percent of their municipal trees have been injured, some toppled by the weight of the ice, others damaged.
There’s no denying the destruction.
Last week, life was not easy – what with all the snow sorties and the ice lingering like a weapon, freezing everything to stillness – but even so the shimmering suspension of the out-of-doors offered transport to an ethereal world that would have seemed a dream, except for the peril of moving around in it.
I made a couple of brief forays out, but they seemed to go on and on, my footsteps shuffling slowly, tentatively, as if I were a specter caught in endless enchantment, because the trees – and hence, all the near world – glistened as though coated in lead crystal.
My deductive mind kept rolling questions over like loose change: What’s happening to all these trees? I wondered. How long can they be encased in ice before being hurt beyond repair?
Trees are sacred to me – in this I am a genetic Mainer, though it took me almost a lifetime to find my way here. In fact the great ecosystems of Maine, the ocean and the forests, have always seemed to me the beginning of life itself, no matter how you want to define it. From hemlock to humus, the forest is the most evident, endless loop of the cycle of life most of us have access to for observation of how nature is not as we think, not linear but coiling forever, and repeating.
So I was unsettled by the sight of the ice, in spite of its elegance, knowing that it cannot continue indefinitely without loading a heap of trouble on the trees – and the power lines, roofs and roads.
But then my imagination overwhelms my sensible anxieties, and I would slip into a sort of oblivion of cold beauty, as though I had crossed through mists like those of Avalon and entered another time, a magical place defying physics and veiled from the everyday material world.
All week I found myself staring out the windows – at home, in the car, in the post office, for long moments, my line of sight tracing the outline of the ice along twigs and branches, trunks and vines. It was vision going nowhere and it would be gone soon enough, when the temperatures climbed back up above freezing for a few days, but I wanted to imprint the memory of the glasslike forest forever on my mind.
The dog experienced the ice a slightly different way, as a worldwide toboggan slide. All day, she would retrace the straight slippery climb to the top of snow mounds where she stood, her noise held high into the wind, as though she were guarding a territory, her kingdom.
And then she would leap off, perhaps expecting powder, but happy enough it seemed to mimic an otter or seal on the hard packed snow and ride on her belly to level ground.
For 10 days I have been mostly snow- and ice-bound, awaiting surgery, but it has given me an envious satisfaction to see her carving the yard into passageways wide enough for a young golden retriever, the crisscrossing of lanes creating a thoroughfare that looks like a deliberate work of art.
I am almost convinced now that she is encountering coyotes or foxes every now and then, because she returns home in a state of exuberance that doesn’t add up to anything other than visitors of the non-human variety.
She bounds through the back door, a slight tinge of musk on her coat and a wild, happy look, glad all the same to be coming home. It leaves me uneasy, to say the least, but I am incapable of walking her right now anyway, and she is none the worse for the experience – whatever it is – out there in the snow.
Every night we sit by the deck door and pray for deer. But even the doe that haunts the woods is absent these days, held at bay perhaps by the same rink-like conditions in the yard and well-trod forest paths that have kept us close to home.
It is not a bad way to start a year, with this stillness, this cold reflection, a sense of hope and expectancy. It even seems, under the diamond ice and the dazzling white, like a whole, brand new world.
North Cairn can be reached at 207-274-0792 or at: