Commonplace Book - Winter 2016

Winter 2016

By Anne Matthews | December 7, 2015


Came to Moscow with the children. Didn’t manage to get another mortgage. Money is needed everywhere. Went bear-hunting. On the 21st—killed one; on the 22nd—was bitten by one. Squandered a pile of money.

Leo Tolstoy, December 23, 1858

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the robin sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Frost at Midnight,” 1798

Only the Lighthouse beam entered the rooms for a moment, sent its sudden stare over bed and wall in the darkness of winter, looked with equanimity at the thistle and the swallow, the rat and the straw.

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 1927

Sometimes one sees only the cloud-marbled glacial fields, high in the sun above hidden mountain slopes and sea fog, Elysian plains that seem as insubstantial as vapor. The interiors of the glaciers, glimpsed through crevasses, are neon blue. Sliding imperceptibly on their bellies, the glaciers carve their own valleys through the rock, and when they pass over rough terrain they have the appearance of frozen rapids, which is in fact what they are, cascading at a rate of a centimeter a day.

David G. Campbell, The Crystal Desert: Summers in Antarctica, 1992

I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Or, Life in the Woods, 1854

In the middle of fog season, my shears cut through branches as I renew the ancient act of pruning. It has required ten years to hone my pruning skills. After a decade I’ve gained enough experience to know how to prune and to learn what I must accept. With different strategies I can amend errors of the past by cutting more wood or redirecting shapes. Opportunity is born with each new year. And continues. In the fog I feel alone but share work with the ghost of farmers before me. … A sacred act is performed and represented every winter, a moment on a cusp of nature’s timeline where a single act connects the past, affects the present, and determines the future. In the veil of fog I can hide or be hidden, a wet blanket embraces and protects my farm, and the ghosts are easier to see.

David Mas Masumoto, Epitaph for a Peach, 1995

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.

Anton Chekhov, Three Sisters, 1900

… Winter’s in.
The sky thins out.
The world tightens, like a walnut.
I can count most things.
The plum trees are taut on their hill,
the mornings bitten off, like a twig.
The earth will give and give.

Nina Bogin, “The Garden,” In the North, 1989

The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London. … A man who stepped into its social atmosphere felt as if he had stepped into a written comedy. More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a drifting cloud. This again was more strongly true of the many nights of local festivity, when the little gardens were often illuminated, and the big Chinese lanterns glowed in the dwarfish trees like some fierce and monstrous fruit.

G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908

Where’s Teapot Dome? … Where’s Watergate—
Their shoes squeaked down the Halls of State,
Whole networks groaned beneath their weight,
Till spinster Clotho darted near
To shroud in white a running mate.
Ah, where’s the slush of yesteryear?
Like blizzards on a screen the scan-
dals thickened at a fearful rate …
Where is the slush of yesteryear?

James Merrill, “Snow Jobs,” A Scattering of Salts, 1995

He still sent his kimonos back for “snow-bleaching.” It was a great deal of trouble to return old kimonos—that had touched the skin of he could not know whom—for rebleaching each year to the country that had produced them; but … [t]he thought of the white linen, spread out on the deep snow, the cloth and the snow glowing scarlet in the rising sun, was enough to make him feel that the dirt of the summer had been washed away, even that he himself had been bleached clean.

Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country, 1935

And who knew our address? For all the world knew, we were dead. And yet a package did finally find its way to me, through a chain of friends, sent by my sister and my mother, who were hidden in Italy. … The package contained ersatz chocolate, cookies, and powdered milk, but to describe its real value … is beyond the powers of ordinary language. In the Camp, the terms eating, food, hunger had meanings totally different from their usual ones. That unexpected, improbable, impossible package was like a meteorite, a heavenly object, charged with symbols, immensely precious, and with an enormous momentum.

Primo Levi, “Last Christmas of the War,” 1986

With that, the former king of a former Wall Street lifted the plate that held his appetizer and asked sweetly, “Would you like a deviled egg?” Until that moment, I hadn’t paid much attention to what he’d been eating. Now I saw he’d ordered the best thing in the house, this gorgeous confection of an earlier age. Who ever dreamed up the deviled egg? Who knew that a simple egg could be made so complicated and yet so appealing? I reached over and took one. Something for nothing. It never loses its charm.

Michael Lewis, The Big Short, 2010

Exit, pursued by a bear.

William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, Act III

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