The Abenaki were the original inhabitants of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.

Listening to Winter

On a winter day when temperatures throughout Mid and Eastern North America are plummetting, it is difficult not to project human emotions onto the landscape.  How can winter be so cruel and miserable?

A poem by the American poet Wallace Stevens suggests we should think more objectively about what we see outside our door.

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

To have “a mind of winter” requires an objectivity that escapes me. At one and the same time I see beauty in “junipers shagged with ice” and hear “misery in the sound of the wind.”

At Glen Villa, inverted tree branches walk across the land like the original inhabitants, the Abenaki. At the base of the hill, the walkers encounter a split rail fence and become entangled in barbed wire.

 

The Abenaki were the original inhabitants of the Eastern Townships of Quebec. This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.
This part of my installation, Abenaki Walking, shows the period after the arrival of Europeans, when barbed wire impeded the movement of Abenaki across the land.

 

I can’t be the snow man. Listening in the snow, I  see beauty in the barbed wire encrusted with ice, and that beauty makes more real the cruelty implicit in the scene. I see something that is not there, and the something that is.

 

 

  • Pretty cold when it turns everybody into stickman!!!!!!!!! I can hear them walking though!

    • siteandinsight

      Crunch, crunch, crunch.

  • Awesome poem! Thanks for sharing that! The entire Abenaki Walking installation must look beautiful and yet more poignant in the snow.

    • siteandinsight

      I’m a big fan of Wallace Stevens. And you are right, Abenaki Walking does look beautiful in the snow.

  • Love that poem. Very apt as I am about to go out and shovel snow.

    • siteandinsight

      I like many of his poems. Hope the snow stops falling once you’ve shovelled.

  • Thanks for this, Pat. It inspired me to go revise a poem I started years ago. Still not there yet, but it was good (winter/mental/creative) exercise.

    • siteandinsight

      Interesting, Helen, how reading a good poem can inspire revision of one’s own… I also worked again on a poem I wrote when I was in Australia a bunch of years ago. We can both thank Wallace S.