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.