Clouds

This very early morning run started off with an inky black-blue night so startlingly clear that the waning Crescent moon and stars shown white-bright, which made me realize how lucky I am not to be in Chicago with its sky, clotted with juandiced-orange clouds that don’t so much hang in the sky as appear stuck like chewing gum underneath a school desk.

On the trail that I jog, the frogs had started moving but hadn’t quite warmed up enough to make any quick jumps so they waited on the sides of the trail, like mute yet encouraging spectators that only asked not to be squished by an errant sneaker.

My run takes me past several horse pastures and barns. Either I find the horses are way out in the pasture or they are wedged right into the corner of the fence where I have to run by. I don’t know what to make of it or what they make of me. I do know that, generally, horses always seem way more quiet and stealthy than anything that big should reasonably be. These horses remind me of people you can have a cup of coffee with, sitting in some dingy dinner at 4:30 in the morning, feeling neither compelled to talk or to attentively listen but just sit and feel the moment when it’s not quite the end of another day nor the beginning of a new one. (I know this moment well but it wasn’t spent in Hemingway-esque coffee dives, but learned during residency when you hit three in the morning and can feel—or rather hope—things are going to slow down but invariably your team is called down to the ER again for yet another admission and so another interminable hour or so is spent in purgatory and there is nothing to do, but hope that even the ER residents are getting tired at four in the morning and have finally decided to hold admissions for the fresh medical teams coming in the morning, which really means that you can sit for a few moments and let the sticky sweat from a long night of constant motion finally cool and congeal on you, before your team forms up for morning rounds and do the rest of the day’s work in order to get ready to present to your attending in the afternoon, after they have finished their own clinics. If you are lucky, you will round for only two hours and then walk out into the evening air around seven and find your car and drive very intently and carefully and not crash your car into your apartment’s assigned parking spot and go up and open your door and peel off your scrubs, eat and luxuriate in a hot shower before having to do it again in a few days.)

And later in the morning, driving to work, I make a mental note that Carolina Blue is actually the color of the sky here. (Really. When I first got here I kept thinking there was something wrong with my eyes because the blue seemed technicolor-ed and I then realized that most people here didn’t notice or weren’t particular impressed, because they’d grown up with it all their lives) and Carolina Blue’s accompanying white color matches the starched-white cumulus clouds (think puffy cotton clouds that are ridiculously puffy. So piled on that sometimes these clouds seem to be a put-on, mocking the idea of a puffy clouds, sort of like “My Little Pony” subverts the idea of cute ponies by being impossibly more cute, ie I’d put Carolina clouds up against any other state’s clouds [even Indiana’s, mom] and it’d just be no contest.)

I had a point to this. I think. It’s been a long week for me and a lot of people I know. Oh well, enjoy the picture.

On Snow, Language and the South. Sort of

January 22, 2016 7:18 pm
Clemmons, NC

A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
Yesterday, everything closed because it was reported we were going to get snow today. And so around 3am this morning, it started snowing and by 6am when I left early for work, the roads were already slippery. Luckily, the only other people on the road were people like me trying to beat the onslaught of clueless drivers who only ever drive on snow/ice once or a twice a year and have to be reminded, catastrophically so, what it means to have snow in the south.

I’ve learned that snow here is not like the snow that you and I grew up with which was crunchy like styrofoam and could be scooped up and thrown as snowballs or be sculpted into snowmen. The word “snow” here means something very different than the rest of the country’s usage. It’s more akin to the Southern phrase “Bless your heart” meaning anything but. Having had the phrase said to me in most variants, I propose that if one could fully explain all the nuances of the phrase “Bless your heart” then one would grasp the frustratingly complex character of certain Southerners I have come to know (you know who you are.)

So, Snow here is not “snow.” The closest thing it is is ice. And then it’s not like the ice you see hanging from trees in intricate and delicate shows of filigree. Here snow/ice generally is more like gritty sand. Sometimes folks here will call it “sleet” but again it not what you or I would call sleet which i tend think of as being wet and splooshy and behaving more like thick, very cold rain. Instead, “sleet” here is granular and pelty, as in to be pelted in the face with. This sleet falls frozen and stays frozen, quickly forming nice laminar sheets of inch-thick ice that is as impossible to drive on as you trying to imagine me skating gracefully on a rink.

When people laugh about the Southern Snowpocalypse of 2014 and the seeming ineptness of cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, I want to remind them (oh people of Colorado) that their hubris is misplaced because they are comparing apples-to-oranges. Northerners would do no better if they were subjected to the same conditions Southerners were and are. As I spend more time here, I learn this is true of more and more things. That’s all I have to say about that. For now

So, I stand outside with the kids and see them try to play on and with the “snow” which can’t be used to make snowballs or snowmen because it behaves like dry sand. Nor can it be sledded on because the snow then functions like an Olympic Luge track; the kids accelerate too fast and have to bail/eject from the sled to avoid certain doom.

Nonetheless the kids and I are having fun. There is nothing like a Certified Snow Day in which the World decides that while yes, it’s going to pummel you, it’s also going to equally pound everyone else, which makes days like this have a certain lightness of spirit, where the daily grind and load lessens because you can not go/do anywhere/anything or you will end up both literally and metaphorically in a ditch, which I think gets at something about what it means to live in the South where its rules and language aren’t readily apparent to me and even when they seem clear, may not actually be what is really going on. But with the help of some people down here, I have learned that the World is in fact not Hobbesian nor Malthusian, or Darwinian. And that’s a good thing to know. Even if they don’t actually have real snow in the South.

Excerpt from road trip

[June 15, 2015 Part of Our roadtrip to coastal North Carolina]

June 8th, 2015: On NC-99 between Plymouth and Pantego, NC Somehow we’ve ended up in Indiana.

We’ve come upon commercialized farmland which I haven’t seen since Indiana—flat, seamlessly planted fields that run to the horizon. The roads drop away plumb-line straight and like infinity, tend to hypnotize. Any sense of speed is suspended. We aren’t driving so much as floating while the landscape sluices by. There is no point of reference to compare our motion to other bodies. It’s like being, I would imagine, on a vast calm ocean or an interstellar voyage–everything is far away, your relative motion all but imperceptible. The road and the fields are unbroken, undemarcated lines that make it hard to judge speed in the same way judging a mile-long train’s speed: they seem stationary until they go blaring by like tornadoes. Without landmarks, I can see how someone can easily break 80, 90 miles an hour and not be aware of it

I yell at the kids in the back to look out their windows at the view and they do look up from their ipads and wonder what I am trying to show them. They are used to hills and trees and houses and here they only see geometric planes of browns and greens; I might as well be showing them a gray-laden, blank sky. To me it speaks of where I grew up and reminds me of my long trips between Chicago and southern Indiana during college breaks, hours of riding a road through unbroken cornfields that numbed friends mad from lack of scenery. But you drive it long enough and you learn to appreciate—what I later learned is called—the “negative space” of the scenery, which is the space around and between things, sort of like Indiana; it’s a space between other states in the Midwest—which I learned some people think includes all the states until the Rockies, which really are called the Great Plains—and likewise the way the Midwest is, to some people, all that space between New York and say, San Diego [hmm, Leslie.] Needless to say, they don’t bring the needed baggage to understand or appreciate industrial-grade farming for its austere and glacially-paced beauty.