Our Town downtown
January 8, 2007
On the sill of a window that looks onto the rest of the office here, I have three books propped up facing me and a card from a photo exhibit I went to. I like the color of each, and the design. The one I find myself looking at the most is a book by Thomas McGuane. ‘The Cadence of Grass’. It’s a hardback novel and the image I stare at is a scruffy field out in Montana where the story is set and where McGuane lives. There is snow on the field but not much. Straw is sticking up through it and so is various brush. There’s a barbed wire fence and in the far distance you can see a mountain range. The sky is grey and it looks full of more snow. All this is in black and white in a grainy way. You could be parked along the side of this field or be standing where the photographer was with your dog or a rifle. You could hear your boots crunch in the snow.
I could go on about this picture. I find myself looking at it more this month. I like the snow of it. I like the emptiness of it too and the foreboding. But it’s the snow and cold of it I’m craving.
This weather here now is nothing. I hate it. When I was a kid I hated ACC sports with its Dukes and North Carolinas and Virginias. The weather of those places bothered me. It was all so temperate. So mild. Genteel. It was golf and tennis and tobacco farms. It’s been that way here so far this winter.
Where I came from in western New York, men (not my father, darn it) ice fished and had coon dogs. They had insulated boots and big coats to go hunting in. Those men in those coats with their hunting tags on the back took up a lot of room on the row of stools in Jim’s Diner on Main Street. You’d brush against their heavy coats going down the aisle of the place. They’d sit there and stir their coffee with thin spoons and smoke cigarettes all the while talking about the outdoors.
I have a young son-in-law in Wyoming. He and my daughter live near ski mountains and so a photo of a field near them won’t look as wonderfully bleak as McGuane’s dust jacket does. But it gets so cold there some nights that he has to keep his truck (a nice one; he’s no farmer from western New York. This is ski country) plugged into a generator so it’ll start in the dark of morning when he and one of their two dogs head out to plow driveways. That’s not Duke versus the Virginia Cavaliers in women’s lacrosse. That’s cold in a rugged way, like ice fishing.
I’ve only been near it once, but it seems in the dead of winter here, Montauk might offer some of that for the year-round folks. We’ll get ours soon. Soon enough, many of you are thinking. I can’t wait.
All this is to say that mild is boring. In art or sports or love. Deepak Chopra is boring with that voice. Yoga magazines with their cotton clothes and those ads for smooth stone day spas are too mild. Weather can be too mild.
One of the beauties of living here for me is that the big buildings block a lot of the winds that blow hats away in other places. Wind for some reason I don’t like. But snow and cold are bracing. The coffee tastes better when it’s freezing out. So does a beer in a neighborhood bar with its warm lights. Getting home to your apartment building suddenly matters more. Mail is even better when it’s cold out. There’s something civilized about a magazine in the mail box when nature is having its way out on the street. And how about the grace of fleece-lined slippers when you finally get home? You can even wear a knit cap in the house and look like Kurt Vonnegut on the back of ‘Breakfast of Champions’. That picture might make a good addition to my windowsill.
A week late. Happy New Year.
-- Bill Gunlocke