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Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography
A companion volume to The Other End
of the Driveway that looks up and
outward to the stars and
planets.Download an electronic copy for
only $8.95 or get a paperback for
$20.95 by clicking here.
The Insomniac Dog of Winter
March did not arrive here this year until April.
The daytime temperature has been in the vicinity of 35 to 45
degrees with biting wind. Two inches of snow fell out of the sky on
April 16. The ice mountains at the top of my driveway, which had
started showing hopeful signs of receding, built back up in
geological fast-forward so my backyard still resembles central
Winter is like a mean dog with its teeth in your leg that won't let
go. Starting in late February when the sun is suddenly higher in
the sky and stays there longer, the dog usually nods off a little
during the day. But you have to keep a healthy mental distance
because at night it wakes up and growls. March nights refreeze the
mud that plagued the driveway in the afternoon. It always snows.
In March 2005, more than 32 inches of snow fell on Portland,
according to the National Weather Service. In 2001, 40.5 inches. In
1956, more than 46 inches. In 1993, 49. Those icy fangs do not let
In 2012 the dog fell asleep in mid-March and the temperature was
in the 90s for a few days. You could see it coming: People thought
-- or hoped so hard they believed -- that winter had left early. But
a week later, I seem to recall, a pervasive sense of dejection set in
when the cold nights clattered back and cranky winds snarled and
snapped again at our ankles.
March is the cruelest month in this part of the world, but April
can be its own cur, and this year it 's guarding its dish like it's still
March. On the evening of April 16, it was 25 degrees on my deck.
On April 4, 1954, it was 8 degrees in Portland, the coldest
temperature ever recorded for the month. On April 27, 1964, there
was a 49-degree swing in temperature. The coldest April averaged
38.4 degrees in 1943. Even in 2012, the second warmest April on
record, the mean temperature for the month was only 47. In the
first week of April 1982, 15.9 inches of snow fell on Portland. And
that's in Portland, which to us up here in the woods is getting on
out of the subarctic map and entering a temperate zone. Two
Aprils ago, 15.4 inches of snow fell on Bangor. When I taught at
Unity College back in the last century, I remember big plans for
Earth Day celebrations being driven indoors by wet, raw bags of
snow falling out of cold gray skies.
Here in Troy, as my ultra-reliable plow guy Jason (who lives just
across the pond in Unity Plantation) observed, "You guys seem to
get more snow than everybody else." In one big storm last year,
when towns were reporting snowfall in the 20s of inches -- which
is enough already -- I measured 30 inches of new snow straight up
on our deck. In the insomniac dog winter of 2011, clawlike plates of
ice in the driveway seemed to be permanent topological features
by late April and shreds of our Antarctic mountains held on into
the first week of May.
"Though the frost is nearly out of the ground," Thoreau wrote in
his journal on March 30, 1852, "the winter has not broken up in
me. It is a backward season with me. Perhaps we grow older and
older till we no longer sympathize with the revolution of the
seasons, and our winters never break up."
My way of saying the same thing is that winter's teeth do not let
go willingly, hereabouts. And this year it is as relentless as ever
here in mid-April. As someone told me years ago, God invented
March in Maine so people who don't drink know what a hangover
feels like. Or a mean dog, who just won't go to sleep.
The wind today is but a breeze
puffing here then there,
coptering down maple seeds
in sudden fidgety showers.
Up straight we stand
from mucking row by row
to uncrick the back, mop sweat,
and see the wide world
still beaming all green below
and blue above. Ank! Ank!
Ank! a nuthatch somewhere
cranks. Then a song sparrow
sings Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
and from some safe bower
a yellowthroat lectures
Not answering -- no need
to get poetic here -- and yet
in triadic parallel of sorts.
You know, three-three-three,
meaning any meaning we
might mean it to mean.
A design proving God is love,
perhaps? Or even that a racecar
driver we admire did not die
in vain? For can't any gust
flutter up myriad signs
seen by all in the yellow air
but only one read by one
alone? And that thought done,
we bend back to dirt again.
William Hathaway's recent collection of poems is The Right No.
Living in the Questions
A 21st century talk before the Pennsylvania Poetry Society
By William Hathaway
I’m delighted to talk to the Pennsylvania Poetry Society,
but I can’t call myself a Pennsylvania poet because I’ve
only lived here a little over a year. I like it here. I was
living in Maine which is a very beautiful place, but I’m
having more fun here and there is beauty here as well and
the people are a lot less wintry. Having said that, I’m still
not a Pennsylvania poet. Over the years my poems have
appeared in Montana, New York and Louisiana poetry
anthologies, yet I’ve always felt awkward about being
represented equally with poets whose themes are
passionately regional. Reed Whittemore had a poem I
liked about watching “his bird” in “his tree,” but when
his bird flew away to his neighbor’s tree he was seized
with instant resentment. I was once fulsomely introduced
to a Sheboygan, Wis., audience as a Wisconsin poet, but
when I rose to admit that all I’d done in Wisconsin was
get born there a palpable chill filled the room. If you can
accept me as a guest Pennsylvania poet for the day, I’ll
Mars, Spica and eclipsed moon / D. Peach
River in the Snow
By Liu Zong-yuan
Over a thousand mountains the winging birds
Throughout ten thousand paths, no trace of
In a solitary boat,
Straw hat and cape,
An old man fishes alone --
Cold river in the snow.
Translated by Bruce Wilson and Zhang ting-chen.
This text is transcribed from the book 100 Tang Poems,
published in a dual-language edition in China in 1988,
which I bought in the English language book shop in
Shanghai in 2000. In this little book are some of the best
translations of ancient Chinese poetry I've ever seen..