It’s Week 3 and hopefully you’ve had a chance to settle in a little to this new practice. Maybe you’re noticing things you never noticed before, or you’re noticing things you’ve moved past for years in new ways. You might be starting to open up to the world and to the winter, finding things that delight you and make you curious. For the next 3 weeks, we’ll share some of what we wonder about and are in wonder of in the winter. This week, I’ll begin with a definition of wonder as delight, and then describe one of my winter wonders: the cold.
Wonder can mean a lot of things: awe, astonishment, surprise, devotion, uncertainty, to be in a state of not knowing or not-yet-knowing, mystery. All of these involve a willingness to be open to something beyond yourself and your perspective. To be moved — startled, surprised, bewildered, enchanted, captivated — by something you’re noticing and then allowing that something to change you. Next week we’ll talk about that transformation in terms of curiosity and a desire to learn and connect. This week, we’ll talk about it in terms of delight — to find and be transformed by those moments, experiences, encounters that please you and bring you joy, and that, if you let them, might make you want to use more exclamation points and call out, “Oh!” in gratitude and delight. That might inspire you to declare, but maybe just in your head, your love for a bird or a bee or a place. And that might lead you to lean your head way back and gasp as you take in the stars on a subzero night, or, like Ross Gay in one of our readings for today, point exuberantly through the airport at that bird, right there!
Gay’s exuberant pointing happens in “Delight #65: Found Things.” I love how he describes it:
I thought, Whoa! Yes! Much the way I do…when I see birds swooping through the Detroit airport, which I happen to fly through sort of regularly, because I don’t see them every time and forget that I see them sometimes, I always—not almost always, always—lose my shit with glee. My finger, also a kind of bird, flying from my side to point at the little tuft that just skidded onto the trash can: Whoa! Yes!
One thing I’m always working on with my moving and writing practice is how to lose my shit with glee more. To, without embarrassment, grow rapturous over the river or how the bare branches fade into the gray sky. To open up to the world with a wild enthusiasm, to be open to everything, like George Sheehan’s runner as beginner and poet, or like Mary Oliver’s dog Luke, in the poem of the same name:
not in the serious,
that we choose
this blossom or that blossom—
the way we praise or don’t praise—
the way we love
or don’t love—
but the way
we long to be—
in the heaven of earth—
that wild, that loving.
“Delight #65: Found Things” is part of Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights. In the preface to that book he writes: “One day last July feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful.” So for a year, from one birthday to the next, he found a delight almost every day and wrote about it. He ended up writing 102 Delights, including the three I chose for your readings this week: Delight #19: The Irrepressible: The Gratitude, Delight #65: Found Things, and Delight #84: Fireflies.
Gay’s description in Delight #19 of his know-it-all dad smiling as he declares the impossibility of bumblebees being able to fly even as one flies past him, makes me think of a few lines from lucille clifton’s poem “All Praises”:
Praise impossible things….Praise the presence among us/of the unfenced is.
The impossibly beautiful and strange fireflies in Delight #84 also remind me of that poem. Of the firefly he witnesses in a field with his dad as a kid, Gay writes: “How common a creature it seems before its cylindrical torso starts glowing, intermittently, at which point it is all of strangeness and beauty. What is the opposite of anthropomorphism? That’s what I mean to do.” This is the delight of things strange and alien, that are “illegible except for in their unfathomable beauty,” and that leave us speechless and wondering.
The delight of impossible things, things that we don’t yet, or might never, understand fully. That don’t make sense. Those wonderful, strange, magical, unruly things that are always more than our language can contain. That can leave us speechless, confused, amazed, delighted.
I’m not sure that this counts as an impossible thing, but one of the delightful, improbable things I’ve encountered while out by the gorge, was a big wild turkey running very fast and a smaller one trying to keep up. My description comes from a log entry dated October 21, 2019:
The one in front was running fast, bobbing its head, while the second, smaller one tried to keep up. Did you know that turkeys could run fast? I didn’t. As I watched them run away I thought that seeing them run so quickly, with their graceful legs and awkward heads, was all I needed today.
Note: I looked it up, which is something I like to do with my wonder, and found a source that says wild turkeys can run 12 mph! That’s a 5 minute mile. Wow!
Right after describing how he loses his shit with glee when seeing a bird flying through the airport, Gay suggests that there is a connection between experiencing delight and sharing it with others, tentatively concluding: “our delight grows as we share it.”
In an interview about The Book of Delights, he echoes his belief in this connection: “one of the things that I learned is that, sharing, for me, sharing, noticing what delights me, and then naming it, recognizing it, and then sharing it, is a kind of profound way of connecting. To be like, I love, look at this, look at this that I love. Maybe it’s a beckoning, even. It’s definitely a reaching and it’s a way of probably being like, do you love this too? We might love this thing together.”
In the spirit of finding delight and sharing it, here is the first of three of my winter wonders.
Wonder One: the Cold!
I love the cold — not being cold, not shivering, or having numb fingers and toes, or feet that feel like concrete blocks as I step down — but what the winter cold does to the air, to my nose and my lungs. What it does to the light, to the sounds, to the colors in the morning or at twilight. I love the way it makes me think more about the weather and what it feels like, how it helps me feel strong, brave, accomplished when I run in it, how it distracts me from the effort of moving and invites me to notice so many things around me in new ways.
In “Winter Walk” Thoreau refers to it as an elixir to the lungs — crisp, clear. The cold air opens me up, especially my sinuses made worse by too much time inside with central heating. On a walk with my dog through the neighborhood, I stop and stand and inhale. No burn, only buzz. Soft, spreading.
I like how the air turns to ice on my eyelashes. How I can see it hovering. Even how it freezes inside my nose.
I like what happens when hot and cold air meet. Years ago I encountered a runner after a New Year’s race. Her head was steaming as the below 0 air mixed with the heat of her effort. Such a strange sight! Almost like a cartoon, when steam comes out of someone’s ears.
from a log entry dated feb 13, 2020: It didn’t feel that cold. Sunny, bright, not too much wind. Then I turned the corner, felt the full force of an arctic chill on my face, and got a brain freeze. The kind you get when you eat ice cream too fast. In college in Southern Minnesota in the 90s, out on the tundra, I would usually get one of these cold weather induced brain freezes every winter. Fun, but not. It’s strange to have a familiar sensation (the brain freeze) but out of context (not from eating ice cream). Is there a name for that phenomenon? What is a familiar sensation felt strangely?
Is this what poetry is, the familiar made strange?
I don’t find delight in Emily Dickinson’s certain slant of light on winter afternoons that oppresses, but I do in Elizabeth Bishop’s meticulous morning light in “Five Flights Up”:
Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins . . .
I like the softness of the winter light, how it makes everything fuzzy, dreamy, what it does to the bare branches. I like how the sunlight, made more bright by the white snow, casts strong, dark shadows that sprawl across the path. I find it irritating and strange and endearingly deceitful how the warmer the light looks — those bright blue, impossibly sunny days — the colder the air is. What a trickster! Not false hope, but a chance to imagine warmer days exist, to remember they will return.
In the poem “October” Louise Glück writes:
The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.
When I’m out running by the gorge, feeling how the winter light is different, I wonder about these lines and what it means to me, to the trees, to the river, that middle C is tuned darker now?
I love how quiet it is in winter. Everything hushed, muffled, silent. Even the car wheels whisper. And I love how loud it is too. So many sharp cracks and snaps that echo across the gorge.
A few of my favorite quiet and loud sounds in the winter:
quiet: small, soft flakes falling on the deck or on my jacket, the far off crying of a lone goose, wheels whooshing through melting snow
loud: the knock knock knocking of a pileated woodpecker on a park sign, kids let loose during recess, yelling at the school playground, the brittle snap of a tree branch, the sharp clanging of a dog collar, the chattering birds hiding in the bushes
In 1912, the nature writer Dallas Lore Sharp wrote a delightful book about winter, titled Winter. Here are a few things he wrote about winter sounds:
You should hear the three great silences of winter: the wide, sudden silence that falls at twilight on the coming of the first winter frost; the smothered hush that waits the breaking of a winter storm; the crystal stillness, the speech of the stars, that pervades earth and sky on a brilliant, stirless winter night. You should hear — or is it feel? — them all.
If winter is the season of large sounds, it is also the season of small sounds, for it is the season of wide silence when the slightest of stirrings can be heard. Three of these small sounds you must listen for this winter: the smothered tinkle-tinkle of water running under thin ice, as where the brook passes a pebbly shallow; then the tick-tick-tick of the first snowflakes hitting the brown leaves on a forest floor; then the fine sharp scratch of a curled and toothed beech leaf skating before a noiseless breath of wind over the crusty snow.
I love the muted color palate in winter: cool blues, dark browns, gray. It’s easier on my sensitive eyes. Everything turned down, not trying too hard to get my attention. At first glance, the sky, the ground, the river, all just gray. The longer I’m outside moving through it, the more I notice, become aware of the subtle differences, the variations on gray: gun metal, smoke, cool ash, slate, pewter, pearl, grayish-white, brownish-gray, steel. And winter blue — not a color, more of an idea. At the beginning of January of this year on a bright clear day, when the feels like temperature was 6, I ran to Minnehaha Falls and marveled at how the cloudless sky made the white snow glow a pale blue. Everything blue. Even the sharp shadows cast by the lamp posts and the tall trees were dark blue.
question: What is the color palate you notice in the winter?
I like collecting cold words, like these from Emily Dickinson in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:
When I saw you last, it was Mighty Summer‹Now the Grass is Glass and the Meadow Stucco, and “Still Waters” in the Pool where the Frog drinks ( ED letter)
question: What are your favorite cold words?
Speaking of cold words, here is my third example of translating attention and wonder into words: writing about the weather.
Translating Attention and Wonder Into Words, part three: the Weather
Why record the weather?
To become more aware of your body moving through the world: From the very beginning of my log, back in January of 2017, I included the weather in the heading of every entry. At first, just the temperature, later the wind speed, humidity, dew point, the feels like temperature, and whether or not the path was covered in snow or ice. I did this partly because the weather seemed so present, such a character in my running story as I ran through it. I was obsessed with the wind, then the humidity, then how cold it was. As I added more miles and spent more time outside, I felt that wind! So much harder to run when it was blowing. Even as I lamented how it sapped me of energy, I liked how it helped me to be more aware of the world and its effects on my body as I moved through it.
To tether you to a specific time and place: As I added more entries, then looked back at them months, seasons, years later, I appreciated being able to check what the weather had been — when the first snow was in 2019 (October 12), or how warm it had been February of 2017 (59), or how windy it was most of the summer of 2021. Recording the weather as part of each entry has tethered me and my writing about my runs to the physical world and to a specific time and place. This tethering is central to my practice of being a body, moving outside, and noticing the world.
For your writing: Making note of the weather in your log provides you with helpful details for an essay or a poem. It also gives you an opportunity to practice different ways of describing the weather beyond just reporting the facts — What does the weather feel like on your skin, your face, your toes? How does it alter the landscape or your mood? You might start by just noting the temperature or the wind speed, but you can experiment with different words and different ways to express what this wind or that frigid temperature felt like as you write about them day after day, season after season.
In February of 2019, I decided to play around with the feels like temperature in my entries. In addition to making note of the temperature in degrees, I added a description of how moving outside in the cold felt to me on that day. It was a fun exercise in paying attention to how I felt — my inner and outer weather — and then convert it into words. The next February, I returned to those “feels like” descriptions and turned them into a hybrid poem.
The February Feels Likes (from my RUN! log)
This poem builds off of my feels like project from February 2019. During that month, I tried to record a feels like description for as many days as possible. For this expanded project, I read through all of my February entries from 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 and picked out phrases or descriptions that I wanted to use. I printed them out, cut them into strips, then arranged them on my desk. Finally I shaped them into a poem.
A more accurate assessment than the wind chill, the feels like temperature is what it feels like to an average adult walking outside in the shade. It is determined using a complicated formula based on humidity, wind speed, time of year, and type of ground cover. Normally the feels like temperature is measured in degrees but during the month of February I found it to be more effective to describe it with words.
Today it feels like . . .
a winter wonderland || I’m the only one not in a car || victory || the inside of an ice cube || the wind can’t make up its mind || more snow might be coming || it’s colder than it is || a different world emptied of others || someone drained the color out of the landscape || no fun || it’s a path for snowshoes not running shoes || it’s warmer than it is || spring is in the next room || freedom || hushshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshshsh || I could run for another hour || this snow will stay forever || a strange dream || one too many shirts || I can finally get over myself || a good day to see David Lee Roth biking by || I hit the wrong button || harder to speak than to write || my shadow is giving me advice || my dead mom is here || sharp and crisp and brittle || it’s familiar even when it isn’t || floating, a ghost haunting the gorge || too much || I can finally unclench my jaw || I am capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason || I need some darkly hopeful poems || the birds are determined to make spring happen || the breath should be a poet’s central concern || everything is sepia toned, stuck inside our version of the past || I’m running up a big hill, into the sun || I should have listened to my body, especially my knee, when it told me not to run || it’s not a day to take the birds for granted ||
is the same as
the feels like
no metaphors no
only the IS
Can that be
Something to think about as you move:
Sometime as you’re moving outside this week ponder the following words from Edward Hirsch and Jane Hirshfield.
First, in “My Pace Provokes My Thoughts,” Edward Hirsch writes:
Wandering, reading, writing–these three adventures are for me intimately linked. They are all ways of observing both the inner and outer weather, of being carried away, of getting lost and returning.
Second, Jane Hirshfield describes her weather in the poem, “My Weather”:
My Weather/ Jane Hirshfield
Wakeful, sleepy, hungry, anxious,
restless, stunned, relieved.
Does a tree also?
A cup holds
sugar, flour, three large rabbit-breaths of air.
I hold these.
What is your inner and outer weather?
How might you wonder about/imagine/describe the inner and outer weather of a tree? A river? A gorge?