Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year's Reverie : The Pleasure of Limits

Well, cold is cold. And we've already had quite a bit of it.

Starting the year at -15 degrees, on the road to the North Woods. Sunny, but a dangerous chill over everything.

The first adventure—lunch at OMC, a smoked meat café in West Duluth we'd read about in the papers. Excellent ribs, chicken, brisket, jalapeño grits, and cole slaw. (We shared a sampler platter, which arrived on two enormous plates.)

A cheery waitress named Cassidy explained the four sauces. Later one of the owners stopped by our table, and she explained to us how her son's had traveled the south, working in a variety of kitchens, picking up authentic techniques.

There's a gift shop across the street, and a deli going in soon. Bent Paddle Brewery right around the corner. But it seems to me that the Lincoln Park neighborhood is in no danger of become over-gentrified.

We stopped by the side of the road at Leif Erickson Park and walked through the snow to the railing overlooking the harbor. Eight oar boats were anchored off shore—the most I've seen since the grain embargo of 1978. Later in our trip a woman explained to us that when it gets really cold, loading hatches freeze shut, machinery breaks down, and everything backs up. However, the locks at Sault Ste. Marie close on January 15, and some of the freighters may have to return to their home port empty.

In Two Harbors we stopped at the supermarket for pasties and M & Ms, then drove out to the harbor in search of a snowy owl. No luck. Though we notice along the way that Castle Danger Brewery has build a big edition to their warehouse.

Arriving at our cabin a few miles east of Castle Danger, we find that it's been fitting with a gas fireplace. I don't mind. The arrangement of fake logs is not very realistic—it looks like a modernist sculpture or the set for a miniature opera—but it's certainly handy. Just push the button on the wall and presto, you've got flames and heat.

A giddy thrill at having arrived. Tall windows facing the big lake. We went out for a walk around the grounds at sundown. It might have been 7 degrees. Golden yellow light on the snow, tinges of orange and deep blue shadows in the trees. The lake is relatively calm, small waves curl around the icy rocks from the south.

* * *

It's 5:15, pitch dark. We step out again to get a look at the stars before the moon gets too high, but it's already bright and the stars are pale.

* * *
"For Nietzsche's intention—and he was sure he had succeeded—was to break out of the enchanted castle of metaphysics. He himself had already defined that castle ... as a site of marvelous spells where the inhabitants are unaware of living under a spell. Of course, having emerged from this place, he claimed to have found not silent country paths, but a desert that extends endlessly and easily swallows one up, where there is no marked goal."  — Roberto Calasso
I would prefer to remain in the castle, of course. Nietzsche was banished, however, and could think of nothing better to do than to pound on the doors from the outside in an effort to attract others to his desert of torments.
* * *

Morning. 7:30. The lake is an ominous blue-gray. Wind from the south, stronger. The waves seem to pass us by without stopping, churning toward some distant rendezvous. Wisps of sea smoke moving in the same direction, and out across the lake to the east a bank of clouds a hundred feet high—or a thousand, who knows?—blocking my view of the horizon.

Cirrus clouds above and beyond are a pale peachy white. The sky is a pale bright blue, if that's possible. I've got the magic fire going, coffee brewed, just listening to the waves. Waiting for the sun to arrive.

On the one hand, I feel that I've brought the wrong books. Then again, when you're stuck with the wrong books, you find yourself reading them, which was the idea. All the same, there are too many theoretical books, not enough poetry and genuine literature. With Borges's This Craft of Verse somewhere in between.   

* * *
"The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. He only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits."  — Chesterton
* * *

Back from our morning ski at Gooseberry Park. A fine ski, though the snow was barely sufficient and a few of the downhill runs were dicey to the point of no control. I took one glorious tumble, self-induced, to avoid even greater speed and risks ahead.

"Are you okay?" Hilary called from the top of the hill.

"I'm fine," I shouted back. But I had a terrible time getting back on my feet and finally crawled through the snow to a nearby tree for support.

We were on the trail for almost two hours, but saw no one. Eagle, downy, raven, blue jay, chickadee. By the time we got back to the car the temperature had risen to 11 degrees. But the day is hazier and grayer than what the dawn had promised. Something the wind blew in.

Now the snow is coming down lightly and a hundred yards from shore the fog is impenetrable. The waves are getting big: it looks like the dawn of creation. Yet a few minutes ago Hilary saw a little girl just outside the window on the pebble beach below the cabin take her shoes off and stick her feet in the water.

* * *
"Remember what Emerson said: arguments convince nobody ... but when something is merely said or—better still—hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. We are ready to accept it." — Borges
* * *

I just stepped outside into the dark to greet the morning. Calm and cold, with half an inch of new snow on everything. Stars are mostly gone, but three bright orbs continue to dazzle to the south. Maybe I'll look them up later. Borges notes that the word "consider" originally meant to "bring the stars together," as in drawing a horoscope. Nietzsche would not have approved.

Hilary is reviewing trail conditions on her phone. A sliver of bright orange appears on the edge of the cloud bank to the east. Today the sun will shine. But it will be very cold ...

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