by Robert Vivian, from his collection of essays, Cold Snap as Yearning (University of Nebraska Press, 2002). photos by me.
…I went out the garage and, where the door lifted, met a foot of snow shelved perfectly crystalline and pure, as cut off from its natural bent as I was. I stared at it long enough to notice its perfect glazed angle, the weightlessness of its glide, like a different kind of wave caught midsurge before it crested, arched where the pearl white of drift was severed by the metal dungeon of the garage door. Humbled, I stepped clean over it before the door closed behing me without a sound except the pulling groan and settle of its chain.
I trudge across an open field that is endless for its blankness, each rabbit hole or declivity settled over in one smooth curve. My breath blossoms raggedly in the air, a ring of ice forming where my mouth is covered by wool.
The earth lifts before me like a great veil of white holding up its immaculate vision, a table set with fine white linen as far as I can see, except the trees that rattle and shake their brittle arms. I am a speck on the board, a tiny insect making its way over a blown anthill. At eight I am looking for God, or what passes for divinity in blown snow and nothingness. I walk on and on, the crunch of my boots magnified in the cold.
Where I am going is difficult to say. Each boot comes down in a place not touched before. I move off into another distance. I notice my breathing, the buffeted feel of my body against the cold. The wind holds me, then pushes against me form all directions, as I sway like a staggerer lost to visions of wagons going by. The world has shut down and thrown away the keys. The earth has stopped pretending, the owls have stepped over the last bones of the field mice. I am marching toward eternity in a suburban neighborhood that is no longer well kept and friendly: it is an outpost winnowed out of the cold wind, plopped randomly here in the snow in the middle of the plains…
…I am eight years old and know nothing, and it takes my breath away; and then something is revealed to me in the cusp of cold wind through branches, though I cannot say what it is. Silence and cold and wind blowing, the via negativa of coming briefly to the end of my chain, not straining at all in felt emotion: the zero where I become nothing in watching the blanked-out sky, the whisper of the wind through branches that are the difference between seeing and being.
Then it is over…Whatever I was looking for was lost long ago. Whatever I find is gone the moment I find it. Whatever I love is with me always.