Volume 17, Issue 5: Thema
"The earth's orbit is not perfectly round." They say it so condescendingly, correcting my impression of a perfect child. It's the same tone they use when they tell me that George Washington had an affair, that Winston Churchill struggled with depression, that John Calvin was fussy about
his bowling. I'm sure they're just saying it for my sake. "Ah, you find creation lovely, do you? Have you noticed this small mole on the earth's orbit?"
I will not pretend that the earth's orbit is perfect. I have no aesthetic scale large enough to judge planetary motion. Man, in his fullness, may some day slightly adjust our route and in doing so correct any number of things, refining the dancing of the Mojave's moving rocks, the attitudes
of Alaskans, and the rainless bits of the Atacama. Our orbit may have imperfections, but I see no reason why a lack of exact circularity should be considered one of them. The earth itself is not a perfect sphere. I've heard rumors that there are actually bumpy parts, and that even its biggest puddles
of self-leveling liquid rarely stop heaving their barmaid bosoms and get all skittish whenever the moon (poor pock-faced moon, but the women love him) marches by.
This snow, the snow at my feet, is taking itself too seriously. It seems to be a little overly aware of the fact that it is comprised of billions of uniquely hand-crafted crystals. Of course, billions is a low number. I've stepped on billions in the last day or so, and with every step, the
snow-collective squeaks. But in this cold, its pride is hard to hear above the sound of my own lips chapping.
At this, my latitude and longitude, my position well above sea level, I have become accustomed to more passionate snow. The snow of my childhood came in fits. At times it blew in sideways, an infinite amount of dust, easy to shovel and unsuitable for snowmen. In less freezing air, it fell
in snowballs, striking warm earth, but striking fast enough and in such force as to overwhelm its own melting foundation and accumulate. That was the snow for forts, for men, for slides built up against the neighbor's garage, unable to support the weight of a sister for all our engineering. The snow
of my childhood always came like Lord Byron touring Europe in his chariot. Those snowstorms were always full of pizzaz and promised to overthrow the Turks, but they were more similar to Byron in their death, destroyed by one or two epileptic fits and a rainstorm-induced coma.
The snow of my past came and went suddenly. Though it arrived with immeasurable wealth, it always managed to spend itself and dwindle within days. And then more would come. But now, in the frost-thorny world beyond my window, beneath my feet as I walk, the snow persists. With
no warmth to melt it, in temperatures cold enough to maintain it, it does not slush and pass on into its next permutation. The friction of tires on the slower streets is not enough to melt it. Instead, the snow is ground in with the dirt of summer and fall, minced into fine sand, and its sandbars divide
the lanes. The snow's youth passes, and it grows ugly with tromping and driving. It does not melt, and no new snow falls to freshen it. The only change comes with the frost.
Fog settles on my world, though the air is still far below freezing. There were three things too wonderful for Solomon, yea, four which he knew not. My list is still growing, and the way of fog and rime frost was just added below tides, bumblebees, and why my son likes to lie on the
floor pretending to be dinosaur bones. For some reason this low-flying cloud doesn't freeze solid and clatter onto my street. Instead, it scrapes its belly and itself through my trees, scratches its back on my icicles. Where it touches, it freezes. We, my house, my town, my county are a piece of sand in
a cloud oyster. But unlike an oyster, this cloud will not be made more comfortable by smooth roundness. This creature desires a bed of nails and thorns, formed and elongated to a barbed perfection. Layers of crystalized cloud are laid down until the world's reality begins to resemble our own
bad imitations of it. Bushes and trees look like white plastic, factory-proportioned. The effect is of profound beauty, a beauty so simple and surprising, a relief from the thriftiness of the snow.
Everywhere I look, I see a world of images that could end up abused on Christian posters and cards, tagged with verses in a juxtaposition that makes God seem merely quaint. But God does revel in a whitened world cross-lit by a pink sunset. If He didn't, I assume He would stop doing it.
But what the Christian card won't show you is the other side of rime frost, the cost of white-wrapped bushes, and that's what the freezing fog can do to your sidewalk. You can see the spiked ice ornaments left on each pine needle, but the sheet of ice left beneath your feet is invisible.
If I am a consistent Christian, a connoisseur of the divine personality, then I should be able to enjoy the pink light on the frosted trees when I am warm and cocoa-filled beside my own cheaply lit indoor version, or while I lie on the frigid ground with a broken hip, unable to reach my cell
phone. Unless I've slid all the way beneath my car, and can't see anything. The rime frost, the freezing passage of the cloud oyster, brings both possibilities.
I find it odd, as I spritz my windshield with what I believe to be de-ice and watch it freeze solid, that I am nearly as close to the sun now as I am likely to ever be in this lifetime. Contrary to natural intuition, the seasons, for those of us that have them, are not caused by distance to and from the
sun, but rather by the crazy english our Creator spun onto this ball of ours. We circle the sun at approximately sixty-seven thousand miles per hour, while spinning at a surface speed of one thousand miles per hour. However, the wackiness of this particular curve-ball has more to do with axis, the eye
of our spin-storm. The axis of our surface rotation is not perpendicular to the plane of our orbit around the sun. In fact, the angle of our axis has no constant relationship to the sun, though its angle in relation to the plane of our orbit is nearly constant.
It is impossible for a sphere to be really leaning (though that is how the earth is described). We are not tipping. But North is never straight up. North is not at the top of the globe; it is at the top of our axis, and our axis is tipping at about 23.4 degrees. That's the angle at which we point,
and no matter what precipitation attacks your yard, or where we are in relation to the sun, we are always pointing at Polaris. We travel around the sun, but we're hitched to the North Star. In our winter, the axis, and North along with it, leans away from the sun, effectively placing us higher on
the globe's face during daylight hours. In Spring, we lean toward Polaris beside the sun, neither toward nor away from its heat. In that position, as in the fall, our height on the face of the globe changes during the course of the day. In our summer, the sun is between us and Polaris, and so our axis
leans toward it in pointing above and past it.
The truth is that it all makes very little sense. At least it doesn't at first, and then it does, and then it doesn't again. We still assume that winter happens to us because the tipping pushes us further away from the sun. That distance reduces the intensity of the sun's radiation, and suddenly
the moisture in the air crystallizes, falls, and buries our sidewalks while accentuating our Christmas lights. But equatorial Africa is much further away from the sun during its tropical nights than we are during our frigid midnights. In fact, any time after six in the evening we would be closer to the
sun than the tropics are, and we are watching water freezing into spikes before it can reach the ground from the roof's edge, while they are getting malaria.
It's all refraction and reflection and diffusion and absorption. It's all about a direct hit as opposed to a glancing blow. Or so the priests of science tell us. When we are lower on the globe's face, the sun's rays penetrate the atmosphere with more authority. The atmosphere is closer to
perpendicular in relation to the sun. When we are higher on the globe, the sun's rays strike an angled surface, some ricocheting off, some hanging out with the cumulonimbus and the rest making our icicles and rime-frosted bushes look nice.
Whether we are orbiting the sun or dangling from Polaris, I can't really say. What I can say is that the whole thing seems rather contrived. Hardly natural. I mean really, even limiting things to a very narrow corner of our galaxy, what are the odds that an enormous (nearly perfectly
spherical) glop of flame even exists, let alone that another sphere (nearly perfect) should travel around it in a circle (nearly perfect) while spinning on an axis of approximately 23.4 degrees, an axis that for some reason ignores the presence of the fire glop and always points toward a distant and
apparently irrelevant star? Add to this the preposterous claim that this spinning ball is positioned at such a delicate distance from the cosmic wood-stove that it is neither too hot nor too cold for life, and that the obsession the axis apparently has with Polaris shifts the continents in their vertical positions on
the globe's face, causing heat, the division of air into equal parts oxygen and forests, rippling waves of grain, thunderstorms, tornadoes, colored and falling leaves, the hardening and expansion of water, and then crocuses, all while we, traveling somewhere around sixty-eight thousand miles per
hour, keep our grass short, invent marshmallows and smugly say things like, "You realize, of course, that this spinning (not quite perfectly spherical) combination of rock, water, and carbon-based life, does not spin around that giant fireball in the sky in a perfect circle?" and I'll bet my little all
against any of it ever happening.
Remembering the first flowers of spring now, in the freeze of midwinter, is rather difficult. Spring itself is a hard thing to grasp without the early reminders of aroma, thawing earth, temperatures still low, but so high in contrast to the past months that people can remember the idea of liquid
water and swimming, even if they still can't remember the feel of sunburn.
Spring will come, like the garbage man, sooner or later. Our world, still covered with the white confetti of the New Year, will encounter a janitor, stern at first, but with a passion for the color green. I know his build, his mood, but his features are still hidden from me. I turn on Vivaldi, but
the violins miscommunicate. I hear weddings, and nothing outdoors or involving pink. This is all an evening affair, after dark, candle-heavy, red dresses. Vivaldi leaves and some new noise follows. I will not coax myself into a remembrance of spring by thinking of baseball. I will retain my dignity.
And there it is: Spring itself or at least a very small ambassador, promising, lurking, sure to break the siege. I am high on the globe, so the sun is low in my sky. But it still shines through my window, and it still lays out a rectangle of promise on my carpet. A sun puddle. I crawl to it.
Despite passing through space, and losing many friends in assaulting the angled atmosphere, this light has arrived. It has even passed through the specially treated, energy-efficient glass of my window and retains enough energy to warm a spot on my floor. I would go fetal in its embrace if I could, but
my hamstring is cramping.
Regardless, my face rests in the sun puddle on the carpet and remembers.
There will be brown fields of mud. There will be a lingering cold, wet, and then surrender. The last flakes will be gone, the well-shaded drifts finally melted. The janitor will smile and decorate for St. Patrick's
day. Chlorophyll will run amok, drunk on the sunlight, and begging for more. Spring belongs to chlorophyll.
Why are the growing things green? Why, when we stand on top of a hill with our friends, overlooking a newly fertile world and trying casually to use the word
zephyr, is everything this perky color? Early plant life tried out beige, tan, mocha, and other alleged earth tones, but had trouble
getting the carbon out of the air and into the leaves. And then one particularly cocky plant came out its spore green, and its parents were embarrassed, and everyone tried to avoid saying anything. At least until they saw him grow. He was huge, and he had his pick of women, and all his kids beat up all
the beige kids and took over the world, becoming moss, algae, and redwood trees.
The truth is that green is a rather inefficient color. We don't make green solar panels. We make black ones. Black absorbs light better. God is not a pragmatist, nor, in His art, is He a realist. He overdoes things. Spring winds can be a bit much. Not all of His rain is entirely called for.
Anyone who has seen a snowflake knows that He micro-manages. A realist author, someone unafraid of the unhappy ending, of the seedy underbelly of existence, would never have made everything turn green as soon as the sun climbed higher in the sky. It just isn't believable. Plants would be black, or
at least dark brown. A realist wouldn't have been afraid to make the jungles ugly. But no one who has ever tasted a spring breeze that really should be called a zephyr could think God a realist.
The first official day of summer moves around for me. That day is not marked by anything on a calendar, or by the first bit of peeling skin. Summer may be in town in any number of ways, but the welcome-back reception waits on one thingsummer rain.
Summer is known for sun, as it should be. It is known for heat mirages and fire dangers. On beaches, it is known for German tourists turning purple. But if you want to see its soul, you have to watch its storms.
Summer is that time when the clouds put on polyester socks and shuffle through the carpet.
God asked Job if he could ever send lightnings and have them report back, saying, "Here we are." It was a rhetorical question. Job couldn't, and neither can I. The best I can do is play
thunderstorm with my son when he's wearing his flame-retardant jammers. The lights are off, and I rub him all up and down with his blanket. Rub, peel, and watch the crackle. I tell him that the sparks all up and down his legs are lightning. When his window rattles in the summer thunder, he knows what
game is being played.
"Jesus is playing with the clouds," he says. "He likes playing with noise." Yes, He does.
One July, we all loitered post-barbeque on my parents' lawn. Cousins were doing cousin things. I don't remember too much of the context. The sun had gone through the slow death that is its summertime preference. Darkness had settled, and we, in this lawn on top of a hill on the edge
of town, were watching the lightning crawl in over the city. Sheet lightning kept the sky awake while forks played over a not-too-distant ridge. The thunder bumped slowly closer, and then enormous fingers snapped. Light pulsed. Beneath us, the evening-lit city went black. Our hydro-electric
power, intimidated, went and hid in the closet. But after only a brief moment, in the silent wake of the thunder, noise rose out of the darkened town. It was cheering. In a month designated for fireworks, the people appreciated a show in a league of its own.
When the hotdogs are eaten, and the thunder is gone, when the harvest moon has been hung and taken down, the fall is upon us. Rain comes in spring; rain comes in fall. But in the fall it brings rot and the sweet smell of a fermenting world, another brew to be served when the green
obsession comes again, and then aged again to be served when the fields are golding. Fruit sags and is eaten or left to shrivel in the first frosts and the later freezes. Outside my window, a squirrel harvests long dead, rime-covered apples.
Enough cannot be said of snow. Enough cannot be said of cold-hardened cheeks, the first-born green of Spring, or thunder-watching with tender sun-scratched skin. Enough cannot be said. All this is one thing. All this is Weather. It may seem unlike, but it is the same. It is the big laughter
of silent torrential blizzards, deep green fields with gray skies, with blue skies, and the shooting stars of summer. They are all the fruit of one mood, and the arranged contrivances of a sphere traveling around a sphere, balanced at a constant angle, always pointing to Polaris, making fruit grow and
die, water freeze and melt, billions of hand-crafted crystals bury my world. These are the many moods, the many mood, of God.