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Dichotomy in Human Physiology

December 31, 2007

Here we are again at this interesting juncture: the end of the year, or the beginning of another — the choice might depend on that dichotomy in human psychology that is defined by whether you see the glass as half empty or half full.

I don’t happen to see the assessment of “half empty” as necessarily negative. It’s good to focus occasionally on the promise of the empty side.

Looking to the new year, we could discuss Kent Haruf and Peter Brown’s new book, “West of Last Chance,” which has garnered a six-page centerfold in the latest Harper’s Magazine, but we won’t.

We could discuss a new book by former Salidan Carol Peeples, “Getting on after getting out: a re-entry guide for Colorado,” which is a remarkably thorough and well-designed guidebook for people returning to society from prison, but we won’t.

We could discuss Mel Strawn’s new book of drawings collected from his life’s work so far, but we won’t.

There will be time in the new year for that. And Mel will be giving a presentation about his new book for our next “Arts at the Library” program Sunday, January 13.

No, we’ve had a delightful holiday season thanks to Mother Nature, and I’d like to discuss that. You may not concur, depending on the “half empty/half full” assessment, but the cold, snow, and ice have been most welcome as they turned our landscape into an evolving work of art.

Take the other morning, when it was 18 below, plus or minus depending on where you live and whether you like to round up or round down. The river was shrouded in that frozen mist that forms as the temperature approaches 20 below. All the trees along the river were frosted white.

Downriver from the bridge, the sun through the mist looked like an orange in a fried fish shop (that’s not my phrase, but Joyce Cary’s, from the beginning of “The Horse’s Mouth”).

Upriver, across from the boat ramp, in the pool that often flows counterclockwise back upstream, the ice had collected in a slowly rotating mass, circling like a bicycle gear driven by the chain of ice in the river’s current. I found it mesmerizing.

After a couple of days of subzero weather, the river freezes from each bank and in the eddies behind every rock. In these eddies, long blades of ice form, some veined like leaves, some as delicate as the diaphonous wings of river insects.

Behind the hospital is a place where the current hugs the railroad side, and ice builds over the slow water in a slow accumulation, forming hundreds of fine lines like tree rings.

The channel narrows to a few feet, and the ice and slush flowing through sounds like pouring sand. Stand a moment and you’ll hear squeaks and creaks.

The ceaseless flow of ice is soothing and contemplative. The ice quiets the river and seems to slow it down. But it is fugitive, too. It quickly disappears when normal winter temperatures return.

When there’s snow on the hills behind Tenderfoot, you see how much winter life is there. Tracks from animals and birds run everywhere. Bird wings make elegant patterns in the snow. Shadows of yucca spikes look especially sharp on the soft snow.

I’d said, “Who needs Andy Goldsworthy?”, but of course we still do. We’ve just ordered his new book “Enclosure” for the library … something to do with sheep. Meanwhile, embrace the cold. It won’t be here long.

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