Friday, January 11, 2008

"The snow is general..."

(to be read while listening to "Winter," in John Cage's String Quartet in Four Parts)

START THE YEAR getting back in touch with the ground, remembering that you live where your roots are, that's what I told myself a week ago, housebound after a manner of speaking with all my family: wife, three children, their spouses, their children. (Well, all but one: I'll get to that in a minute.)

We were in a good-sized house on the south flank of Mt. Ashland, just over the state line into southern Oregon. The last of us managed to drag in about midnight Thursday; there'd been snow delays for several of us. We got to bed late and awoke Friday to find the power out. No electricity; therefore, since we were in the country, no running water.

The day was bright, thanks to snow everywhere, and we had candles for suppertime. The kids played board games, many of the rest of us joining in; there was a jigsaw puzzle; there were the many conversations as cousins and in-laws got reacquainted. Lindsey and the other women worked at the household; I basked in the pure pleasure of a large family of intelligent good-hearted people interacting in civil social discourse and mutual entertainment.

The power came back on late Friday night; some went skiing Saturday; snowballs were thrown and a snowman built; there was a fine half-hour walk down the lane. By Sunday noon we'd chained up the tires and loaded the trunks and were out -- me a little bit regretfully.

THE SILENCE OF SNOW is a magical effect; the silence and the cleanliness. A few fenceposts and of course the various outbuildings poked up out of the general whiteness: otherwise nothing we saw out those windows was man-made. I hear snow fell on Baghdad the other day, for the first time in living memory. I wonder if there's not a powerful lingering effect on the human mind of the seasonal erasure of man-made detritus and disorder by winter snows: but I suppose that while these will inspire some to clean up their surroundings, others will marvel at the unusual beauty, if they aren't preoccupied with inconveniences of transportation and such, shrug it off, and go on as usual.

I need orderliness more and more, but desire to attain it only when driven to it, particularly in January, the month of good intentions. The snow, the short family gathering, the hundreds of miles of driving in good weather and bad -- all these were reminders of moments within motion; periods of repose, some of them fairly long, within the constant change of our lives.

I think it is Matt Matsuda who writes, in The Memory of the Modern, that every civilization eventually accelerates itself to death. The "death" of course is the ultimate collapse into order, the order of stasis. The acceleration he writes of is a spin into disorder; I thought of this a few times as I carefully drove across frozen pavements.

The missing grandchild is in South America for a year, learning Spanish and developing adult social skills. He's a composer and a musician, and intuitively expresses himself through those rhythms of complexity and repose that constitute music. Families, I reflect, are another locus of such rhythms, and their expression of order and disorder, of outward exploration in many directions controlled (for lack of a better word) by the centripetality of common roots and experience, reinforces the intuitive human social method of ordering our activities, containing their otherwise probable damage.

We are modern social citizens, but before that tribal animals, and before that families of individual creatures, oddly curious and busily expressive creatures. Our conversation in moments of repose can explore the implications of this; winters and snow and music assist in their various seasons.
A Winter Album is an online collection of thirteen piano pieces (so far) in score, by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, Jon Brenner, Steed Cowart, Elaine Fine, Hauke Harder, Ben Harper, Jeff Harrington, Steve Hicken, Aaron Hynds, Lloyd Rodgers, Jonathan Segel, Daniel James Wolf and myself. It was gathered and edited by Daniel, whose blog Renewable Music is another joy of active contemplation in moments of repose.

1 comment:

Gail Jonas said...

Curious, I checked your blog. I picked this post to read all the way through. I spent last night in snowy terrain, with my son and his family out at Pine Flat. It was beautiful and I started breathing a little more deeply.