WINTER IN ARKANSAS
I am an
onlooker standing on a primordial mezzanine.
I recently ventured
to Arkansas for the first time. Along the edges of the Buffalo River,
below buffs of sand stone, the only audible sound was river itself, until
an occasional airplane crossed overhead, growling a faint white trail
of condensation along the belly of bare blue sky. Standing there, in the
middle of the Ozarks, I could not discern the persistent rumble of car
ocean on interstate that accompanies most afternoons. An unfamiliar sound
caught my attention. I turned; a steady run of water down sand stone into
the river. Why had it taken so long for me to recognize a waterfall? Am
I so unaccustomed to quiet that I can no longer recognize sound made by
things other than human beings? Had I been expecting a greater rumbling,
fed by too many nature shows on television, or something more animated,
like an animal? There are other beings here. Birds hop from branch to
branch. Herds of elk, imported from colder climates after their slender
and less hairy predecessors were hunted to extinction, roam grassy slopes.
Ive become accustomed to the crowed. I take comfort in it. Bill
boards on the side of the highway advertising restaurants, radio stations,
campgrounds, hotels and jewelry stores are the familiars. They are common
where I come from. I almost feel lost without them. Here, bush after bush
of witch hazel blooms. Here, I find my first fossils.
Their bodies have fallen away to memories, yet there is nothing old enough
to remember, save the churt. Rock has not become plant and plant has not
been replaced by mineral. It has dissolved and all that remains is outline.
I have seen things mineralized; wood fossils in curio shops, their fibers
become artifact. These fossils I collect on the edges of the Buffalo are
casts. They tell of the prehistoric. Rock is an excellent record keeper.
Stones tell of many kinds of shifting. Those who know their measurement
can discover much. My partner, who is with me and can read such things,
tells me what was once plateau is now Ozark Mountain. Later, rolling down
the roads of rural Arkansas, we pass several logging trucks carrying the
husks of trees. Further down, we pass their destination, a charcoal factory.
Soon bark will be reduced to charcoal brick-ets for countless weekend
barbeques, or, maybe, the materials to sketch countless pictures of trees.
We are returning to the land of the comfortable, a world that favors the
dead. Today, there is resurrection occurring all across St. Charles Avenue.
For hours, yesterday, it rained hard. After a morning of sun, the rain
is back, and so are the ferns. A few have not made the transition and
remain twisted and brown. Most have revived and fill the oaks with another
layer of green. The sky is gray. Several clouds float low. They look as
if all youd need is a ladder to reach them. The perpetual humidity
keeps the sky here close. Travel north, and the sky feels further away.
was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing.
And it was going to snow.
Water is always an issue everywhere you go.
Winter sky in New England can be filled with gray-white larva,
on its way to becoming snow. Or worse, ice.
Summer in New Orleans can be thick and menacing,
the sky a myriad of lavender and opal.
Both scenarios take over time. For a moment, clocks no longer matter.
It was evening all afternoon.
Sound can undergo a similar shift between the counted and the just
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,
I feel this
way about thunder. Technically, I understand its mechanics. Raindrops
rub together until there is static. Streams of static split the sky, which
then literally crashes back together. A flash of light does not always
bode thunder. It does bode anticipation. In the just after, I wait.
Sometimes, I count the seconds in between lightning bolts. Ive been
told that this can determine how close the storm is. The fewer seconds,
the nearer by the storm. Sometimes, I hold my breath. First, there is
a crack as the lightning rips the air into rough pieces, then a smashing
rumble. The edge of sound is almost as good as the onset, the louder,
Over the centuries, so many things have been implied, bowling balls rolling,
brothers in battle, the hammer of a god, Armageddon. There may be no sound
at all, just an aftermath of flash. When it does arrive, then, there is
the just after of thunder. It gradually tapers. Seams stitch, until the
next slice of electricity. Except for yellow forks, the sewing is as invisible
as the tearing. When both fade, all that remains, a steady plunk as water
plummets, the very drops that may have punctuated the rupture. I am an
onlooker standing on a primordial mezzanine. Someone 8,000 years ago watched
the same light show, before there was a glossary. Now, one needs a directory.
Run off from many types of power plants and factories, from acres of farmland
with too many animals, seeps underground. Chemicals quietly creep upward
with our collective exhalations to become clouds. Invisibility now is
more dangerous than when humans only had to contend with angry gods. We
have made both earth and heaven mortal. Their demise is natures
most dangerous undertaking. Rivulets roll down my hair. Droplets seep
through my sweatshirt. My toes are wet.
It is late February. All afternoon, it has been evening. I have seen lightning
only once. In Connecticut, there could be snow. In New Orleans, there
is rain, and it is warm.
© Karel Sloan
Previously by Karel
GREAT AND SMALL
I have no answers, I just ask questions.
"Karel Sloane" firstname.lastname@example.org
Karel is a published
poet and writer. Most recently
published in VOICES ALONG THE RIVER,
a publication put together by the Connecticut Department of
Environmental Protection and the Kellogg Nature Center
and THE FOURTH RIVER, an online publication of
Chatham College's Masters in Writing program.
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