Sunday, January 15, 2017

Northwoods Journal

It was dusk when we pulled into the Mont Royal supermarket—a place where the lighting director probably makes more than the produce buyer. It was a glitzy shopping experience of the kind I don't generally associate with Duluth. But we'd come looking for fresh fish and bought a pound and a half of lake trout. The butcher was excited to sell it to us. "Caught just yesterday in Bayfield," he said enthusiastically. (Everyone else seemed to be buying frozen shrimp and scallops for their New Years Eve party.)

It was dark by the time we got to Two Harbors. Not a big deal, though it seemed odd to arrive at our cabin in Castle Danger without having gotten a good long look at the big lake. We could hear it, however. It was roaring. We breaded, fried, and ate the fish while listening to jazz piano on Hil's iPad (Billy Childs, Fred Hersch), took a walk in the dark along the approach road to the resort, then built a fire in the glassed-in fireplace.

Now I'm reading Martin Heidegger, who tries to convince me, based of the etymology of the German word, that "building" is "dwelling." Think about it. It's a ridiculous position to take, though it highlights Heidegger's singular preference for passive rather than active notions.
Tomorrow we'll ski.

Morning. Two red-breasted mergansers (I think) just drifted by outside the window. I had a dream that I had been selected to give some sort of speech at a college campus. No one told me this until I arrived, however.

We skied Gooseberry State Park. Plenty of snow cover. Two hours without seeing a soul. These are our favorite North Shore trails. The woods are varied and generally open, never flat but seldom treacherous. Climbing gently, descending to that creek. (Don't know the name.) The frozen river is nice, of course, but even more impressive, I think, is the view inland across the expanse of woods and hills from the ridge, a mottled pattern of frosty grays and greens stretching to the horizon. We took our usual route but tacked on another small loop at the base of the "deer yard" and then up a little hill to a bivouac shelter with another great view, flushing a grouse along the way.

Later, on our way out of the parking lot, we came upon four pine grosbeaks sitting in the road.

After lunch we decided to go back out and ski the municipal trails in Silver Bay. That was ambitious. It was something of a shock to arrive at the parking lot and find it almost full.

"I can't believe there are so many people here," I said to the middle-aged woman who was just climbing up over the snowbank with her skis.

"Everybody decided to come north, I guess," she said, with only a faint wisp of disdain in her voice.

"Yeah, but we skied Gooseberry this morning for two hours and didn't see a soul."

She wasn't interested. She was gone in a flash, off into the dense woods. And she was the only person we saw during our ski.

The trails here are narrow. They run through the dark spruce woods maybe thirty feet up the bank from the Beaver River. The afternoon sun coming across the frozen river penetrated the vegetation here and there to give the woods a genuine sparkle. A half-mile in, the trail leaves the river and the countryside becomes more open, occasionally meadow-like, which makes it easier to see the spectacular rock outcroppings in the distance, hundreds of feet high.

On our way back we took a detour to Lax Lake, where the ice houses can be beautiful set against the same rugged hills we were skiing between. There weren't all that many houses out on the ice--too early in the winter, perhaps?--but little matter; few things are more brilliant than just to be out on a snow-covered lake in full glare of winter sun.

I was cooking up a lamb stew with white beans and vegetables when Hilary got back from testing out a new set of aluminum snowshoes we'd inherited. "I haven't quite mastered the snowshoes," she said, "but the moon is spectacular."

I went outside to take a look. There was a crescent moon, more golden than usual. There was Venus, above and to the left, and then Mars, higher up, smaller.

I'm drinking a glass of Willamette whole cluster pinot noir. A few steps above my normal price point, yet I'm finding it unpleasantly sweet?! (Do you think that will stop me from having another glass?)

I have a collection of Heidegger's essay here beside me on the couch. Having read a few pages, I arrive at the conclusion that Being isn't very interesting. Can anything be done about Being? I think not. Let's put it aside, therefore, and redirect our attention toward a more important concept: Value.

So I turn to Kenneth Rexroth's One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, where I read:

Men, in moments of
Idleness, occupy their minds
with the vacuity of
Feminine eyebrows..."

—Ou Yang Hsiu

The poet must have had a rough life, for he goes on to say:

               —who ever
has been benefitted by the
presence of a woman? Still,
my lewd heart yearns for the past ...

Turning from Rexroth to the French thinker Gabriel Marcel, I read:

Might it  not be said that to create is always to create above oneself? And is it not exactly, also, in this sort of connection that the word "above" assumes its specific value?

A little further on in Marcel's work, I come upon a remark that might well have been aimed, in the kindest way possible, at his estimable German colleague:

When he coins a new word, a philosopher is often the victim of an illusion. The strange and surprising impression produced on him by his new word often prevents him from seeing that there is nothing strange or surprising about the thought it expresses.  

And so, we walk outside again to view the stars. A clear night, constellations everywhere, the moon still 20 degrees above the horizon.

And then a bonus—a pack of coyotes, not that far away, yipping like mad.