Saturday, November 03, 2012

Anticipatory ache.

Note: This has been sitting in the draft folder for several months, as you'll see from tomorrow's post, but I decided I liked it enough not to give it up. So here it is.

I open my front door to take out the trash and 90ºF+52% humidity hits me like a hot water bottle to the face. I close my eyes and try not to gasp at the shock of it because I don't want that sticky warm air going into my lungs, and all of a sudden I'm no longer standing on my front porch in Tampa on a May afternoon.

It was one of those nights during reading days/finals week where you've gone past a late night and into a really early morning without realizing it, and I'd hit a wall in whatever project I was working on, so I decided to empty the nearly-overflowing trash (one of the many small household tasks that fell horribly by the wayside during finals weeks). It was mumble o'clock in the morning of a cold December, but the stupid cat (as opposed to the smart one, who was curled up in a pile of quilts) heard the call of the wild and bolted out the door as soon as I cracked it open to come back in from the dumpster.

There was a sheet of ice all over the road, since the guy the HOA was paying to plow the private roads of our little neighborhood had gone out of town a few days before, of course neglecting to designate a substitute, which departure heralded the first big snowstorm of the year. Not having been properly removed by a plow, the snow had frozen under the various tire tracks and footprints, making a treacherous path, especially if one was trying to move quickly to overtake a stupid cat who was trotting down one's small road towards the larger cross street at the end of the block.

And halfway down the road I looked up from muttering under my breath about selling certain felines to wandering groups of gypsies and saw the moon. It was large-ish, though not full, and unobscured by clouds. The moonlit air was crisp and sharp, making shadows in the hollows of the ice. There was no other sign of life on the street than myself and the soft movements of a black-and-white cat no smarter than your average brick, and my breath caught in my throat as lines sang through my head:

The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.  
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep. . . .*

I paused to take in the sheer otherworldly loveliness of the moment, the cold air searing my lungs and throat till I almost couldn't breathe from the ache and the awe. The stupid cat had also paused, not willing to be too far separated from his pack leader, and had looked back at me just as I returned my gaze to him. We stared at each other for a long moment, and then he turned back and continued to lope down the ice-covered street, leaving me to stumble behind in a chorus of small ice crackles. I did catch up with him at last in the middle of the cross-street—luckily no cars were near—and carried him back to the house, shutting the door firmly behind us to keep wayward cats indoors.

The slam of the door in my memory shakes me back to myself. I step back inside and lean against the wall, willing the ghost of that cold air to come and cleanse my lungs from the humidity, and try not to think about this most recently realized implication of our cross-country move.

I push it out of my mind until late that night, so late that it's nearly early morning. My husband is gently snoring next to me and my mind is insistently focused on my phone. Finally I give in and pull up the Wikipedia article on Tampa's climate.

Average winter temperature: 70's in the day, 50's at night.
Lowest ever recorded temperature: 18°F; December 13, 1962.
Only known blizzard: The Great Blizzard of 1899.

I know my husband, if he were looking at this, would start singing the Hallelujah chorus; after all, he's the one who always started a Florida job search on the first day of snow every year while we were in Utah (he refers to it as "the enemy from above"). But to my Utah-born-and-bred heart, this is a sickening blow.

My son will not know snow. The weather here will rarely even hit freezing, let alone go through any type of snow weather. I will never again have to chase a stupid cat down a street slick with ice at ungodly hours of the morning.

It's only May and I feel the anticipatory ache of missing winter start deep within my bones. I have months to look forward to the fact that I will not get a chance to sit looking out the window at falling snow with a mug of hot chocolate in my hands.

Into my mind flashes Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight." Not the words exactly, but the impression of it. Frost creeping along the ground, firelight, a sleeping child. My throat tightens as I think of my son's lost frosts, and I pull up the full text on my phone.

I'd forgotten that after the first stanza, this isn't a poem about winter so much as about letting your child grow up to love nature and run free in the sunlight and love the world.

My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores . . .**

I think of what my husband says, that Florida is, more than anything else, so very ALIVE. The size of the spiders alone attests to that fact, but more than that it's hard to escape the life that abounds everywhere. Plants, trees, lizards, bugs, crazy birds I've only ever seen in aviaries. And I do want my son to experience amazing things.

But even amid the comforting thought that all is not lost; that even having given up the snow I have gained other good things for my son, I still sigh at the final stanza:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

And I lie in my bed in our apartment in Tampa, at dark-thirty of the morning, listening to the whir of the fan that we need to constantly run in order to keep ourselves cool even in the middle of a May night, and mourn in anticipation of our first missed snowfall, with miles to go before I sleep.

1 comment:

Lost in Translation said...

This is my favorite thing you have ever written. It's really lovely. I came back to read it today when I woke up and it was snowing.