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Selections

Here we are at the end of March, and I am thinking about December. Well, not really December. I am thinking about town and how I sometimes go there to write.

Town can be a location and an idea. In the movie Pale Rider after Spider Conway finds an enormous gold nugget, he tells his two sons to get the wagon ready, “they’re goin’ to town.” The boys are ecstatic. They look at each other in near disbelief, repeating, as if grasping for reality, “We’re goin’ to town! We’re goin’ to town!” Town, in this case, is an event. In the movie, Jeremiah Johnson, after Jeremiah re-unites with Del Gue, Jeremiah is attacked by a Crow warrior. Jeremiah survives the attack, but Del is shaken and concerned for his friend. He says to Jeremiah, “Maybe…maybe you best go to a town and get out of these mountains.” Jeremiah responds, “I’ve been to a town, Del.” For Jeremiah, town marks the end of something. Ultimately, town marks the end of something for Spider Conway and his sons, as well, given that Spider is ruthlessly gunned downed by Marshall Stockburn and his six deputies. His sons, in turn, must bear their daddy’s pelted body back to the mining camp.

I have been waiting for this time of year and for a morning when I could look out of a window and see leaves that have blown from the trees and a world that is a little cooler, a little greyer, but not yet bleak and not without color. Although I have been keeping a journal since my teens, I have tried this year to give more attention to such moments and places that are already close to me. I have looked, for instance, from every window inside my house. I have looked at the apples inside a bowl on my kitchen counter. A couple of evenings ago, I sat on my porch with a cup of hot coffee, a slice of warm apple cake, and watched the moon rise over the mountains. There was a moment when I saw the moon blossoming between the branches of the birch trees. For fear of seeming overly romantic, I should admit these moments have been carved out of recognizable chaos. The chaos of not having a functional sink or shower since June, the chaos of my computer dying a week ago, the chaos of working two jobs while dreaming of some other life, the chaos of not dreaming.

By early December there was not much snow, and by the end of the December there was not any snow. I took a long walk on a day between then and now. A walk in the far north in winter happens in layers. I wear long johns, a flannel shirt and wool pants, a wool sweater and a jacket that will stand-up to the wind and snow. On my feet are thick wool socks and boots with heavy spikes strapped around them for stability on the ice. I also wear a scarf and a hat. A scarf is for every season. It can function as a towel, a bandage, a rope, a blanket, or visor. I also carry a small backpack. In the backpack is a change of socks, a pair of gloves, an extra-warm jacket, and a thermos filled with either hot coffee or tea. I require coffee, but I prefer tea in the field. Tea tends to hold-up better. It doesn’t get as bitter as coffee. I also carry a camera, a notebook, a couple of pens, and a thin book or two, which lately has been poetry. I could haul Swann’s Way into the woods, but I am not likely to read it. Czeslaw Milosz’s Provinces on the other hand fits neatly between the notebook and the jacket. Plus, I can sit with lines like these: