Hole in the Clouds
Jan 13, 2010
Shoveling snow with Buddha
by Billy Collins
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling,
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.
Jan 14, 2010
Carol and Sandy Fuchs spent a week in northern Sweden recently, including New Year's at the Ice Hotel near Kiruna, about 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The sun never rose above the horizon the whole time they were up there, though the dark of night faded into a sort of twilight for a few hours in the middle of each day.
(Image credit: Carol Fuchs)
They tried dogsledding and snowmobiling and visited with reindeer herders. The town of Kiruna is a thriving iron-mining center, where the hundred-year-old mine is nowhere near played out; it is currently expanding closer and closer to the town, which is gradually being relocated to escape the blasting and other mine activity.
The basic structure of the Ice Hotel is made of snow; in November each year, snowguns spray artifical snow over arched metal forms, which are removed after a couple of days, leaving igloo-like tunnels. Interior walls are made of two-ton ice blocks cut from the Torne River and returned to the river when the place starts to melt in April or May. The ice is cut in March and stored for the next winter's construction.
Beds are platforms of ice and snow covered with reindeer hides. Guests sleep in sleeping bags. There are ice sculptures and specially carved ice chairs and tables in the rooms, but according to Carol guests don't usually spend much time lolling about in chairs made of ice. Although she slept well, she reports that Sandy hardly slept at all; he was worried that if he relaxed and closed his eyes, he'd freeze to death and never wake up. The room temperature was about minus 5 Celsius, or 23 degrees Fahrenheit.
The hotel has an ice bar, where drinks are served in glasses made of ice. There's also a restaurant, which serves hot food on regular dishes, in front of a blazing fire.
I'm thinking that part of the rationale for a winter vacation in Arctic Sweden is that it must feel pretty good when you leave; wherever you spend the rest of your winter, even if it's in what you normally consider a fairly wintry sort of place, must seem bright and sunny and maybe even toasty by comparison.
Jan 31, 2010
This has been an El Nino winter in California, meaning that the Pacific breezes have functioned as a conveyor belt bringing storm after storm into the state. Sheets of cold rain blow through the coastal cities and into the Central Valley, where the storms bump up against the Sierra Nevada mountains, try to crawl up over them, and get stuck. A single storm can last four or five days in the Sierras and dump 50 or 60 inches of snow or more at higher elevations. This year, the Sierras are by far the snowiest part of the country.
The cabin in these pictures is near Mammoth, California, a ski area where all the snow is properly appreciated. The snow in the doorway represents one night's accumulation.
Here in Maine, we've had our share of snow, followed by a January thaw last week--tons of rain that left things looking almost springlike till the cold came back. And in Maryland, it's snowing even as I type. But I hear tell that soon it will be February.
Feb 7, 2010
Only in Washington, D.C., in the year 2010, does a snowball fight feature lawyerly liability disclaimers, new-media marketing, and streaming traffic reports.
A heavily promoted snowball fight at Dupont Circle on Saturday attracted about two thousand participants, most of them adults, even though the snow was said to be too fluffy for decent snowballs. For every actual snowball thrower there appear to have been several would-be cell phone videographers, whose work may be assessed on YouTube. Six police cars waited nearby, but nothing happened. Some people attacked the fountain in the center of the circle by throwing snow at the people defending the fountain; the fountain is still there, so perhaps the defenders "won."
Facebook pages and Twitterings promoted the event. Lawyers were involved; a disclaimer on Facebook warned: "You are coming to Dupont Circle Park on Saturday, Feb 6, 2010, to play snowballs voluntarily. The people spreading the word about the happening are not preparing any special equipment or conditions and may not be held responsible for your decisions and/or actions."
Radio station WTOP broadcast warnings to motorists, urging them to avoid Dupont Circle and other snowball-fight locales. Although the Dupont Circle "fight" attracted the most attention, Washingtonians apparently were out pelting one another with snow all over town. This picture came from some allegedly voluntary snow play in Meridian Hill Park, where an artist was using an old piece of artwork as a shield.
Meridian Hill Park
Feb 12, 2010
It's been a while since a puppy picture, so: this dog was caught on camera somewhere in one of those mid-Atlantic states.
The Washington Post today pointed out that now that the city had broken the old season-total snowfall record, this winter's snowfall was approaching the average for . . . Anchorage, Alaska, and Portland, Maine. I don't know about Anchorage, but in Portland our snowfall this year is way below average. And even when it's average, we don't get the whole winter's worth all in a couple of blizzards; I'm sure that would slow things down even up here.
Those of you outside the usual snowbelt have been asked, I'm sure, to find the fire hydrants in your neighborhood and dig them out. The fire fighters need the help, and I'm sure the dogs will be grateful also.
Feb 26, 2010
According to the photographer, Michael Dauzvardis, this little weed in Channohon, Illinois, near Chicago, was hit hard by gusty winds blowing from all directions on January 19, 2010. The weed was bent almost double and scraped round and round, leaving perfect circular tracks in the snow.
(Image credit: Michael Dauzvardis)
May 28, 2010
Sculptor Gerry Lynas prefers working in sand, but last February in New York he had no choice but to make do with snow. His "Two Feet of Snow" on W. 83rd Street in Manhattan was actually five and a half feet tall. It lasted only a day and a night; the next morning, one of the legs was in the gutter, perhaps from non-natural causes.
Lynas liked the consistency of that February 10 snowfall; he said he hadn't seen such nice, sticky sculpting snow in New York since 1977, when he built a thirty-foot wooly mammoth in Central Park.
Here's to a Memorial Day weekend of seasonably lousy snow.
(Thanks to Anna Singer)
Dec 28, 2010
We tossed crumbs out onto the snow in our little backyard, but the birds--with the possible exception of this one fellow--didn't really seem interested.
Jan 24, 2011
Ferrets in their den, according to their mother. Groundhog Day comes next week.
Joshua and Emily Wiggin
(Image credit: Susan Wiggin)
Jan 28, 2011
The way I see it, there's not much point in digging out my car before the plow comes around, and it hasn't shown up yet. So the work Margaret White took care of today is still ahead of me, waiting for another day. I'm okay with that.
Our street, Kater Street, is what they call a "small street" in Philadelphia. It's plenty long--almost river-to-river, the entire length of Center City--but it's narrow, narrow, narrow. Regular-sized garbage trucks and snowplows can't fit through. The city operates special skinny garbage trucks for us small-street folks, and I once saw what looked like a lawn tractor from the parks department, chugging down the block with a plow fitted to its front. However, that was back in December.
Today, the kids on the block built a snowman in the middle of the street, with a carrot for a nose and almonds for eyes. He's not blocking any traffic. It's quiet here, with the cars all shrouded and still. If spring comes before the snowplow does, if the snowman has a chance to just shrivel up in the afternoon sun . . . well, it could save me a lot of shoveling.
Feb 5, 2011
We knew Washington, D.C., was full of vultures and chickens and screaming cuckoo mockingbirds; this winter, also ducks.
May 17, 2011
On Highway 26 the other day, just outside of Dubois, Wyoming, in the Wind River Range, this grizzly and her cub crossed the road and scooted up the snowbank while Hank tried to snap her picture.
The snow thereabouts was still four feet deep in mid-May, which is why Hank and his friend Pat found themselves scurrying along Highway 26, south of Yellowstone, on their way back east from Montana. All over Yellowstone and the Tetons, late spring avalanches were closing highways, and the boys found their way blocked repeatedly; they backtracked, looped southward, backtracked again, looped further south, and finally broke out onto the plains.
Wind River Range
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Feb 1, 2012
Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) is also a noted still photographer. His recent works, such as this one, are panoramas of everyday scenes in cities and villages across Turkey. This street is in Istanbul.
(Image credit: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; h/t: Katrin Maldre)
Feb 20, 2012
The judges assess the form of this ski jumper as he flies past the referees' tower during last week's Team Tour World Cup competition in Klingenthal, Germany. No winners were named; high winds forced an early halt to the event.
(Image credit: LA Times)
Dec 27, 2012
In the wintertime around the French ski resort of Les Arcs, the sun sets early; to get his tromping done, Simon Beck has to wear a headlamp along with his snowshoes. He'll stomp the snow, guided by his orienteering compass, for days on end, from can to can't, filling pristine snowfields with enormous works of art as big around as six football fields and impossible to fully apprehend except from high above.
Beck is an engineer by training and a longtime orienteer by profession. He roughs out the geometry of his designs using what he calls "a kind of reverse orienteering." Then he fires up the music on his MP3 player and slowly, painstakingly, stomps in the details.
He made his first snow designs in 2004. "The main reason for making them," he said, "was because I can no longer run properly due to problems with my feet, so plodding about on level snow is the least painful way of getting exercise.
"Gradually, the reason has become photographing them, and I am considering buying a better camera."
(Image credits: Simon Beck)
Mar 1, 2013
They've been getting a lot of snow this winter in Maine–a foot last weekend and a record 29.3 inches early in February from the storm they called Nemo, and more before and since and in between. This photo was taken after Nemo, in Portland's Old Port.
Some Mainers are probably happy about it.
Here in Philly, we got nothing.
Nov 27, 2013
The cold and the storms both showed up in Philadelphia this week, but somehow the effect we see here in a high mountain valley in the Tyrolean Alps is a little more dramatic and astonishing than it is out on the streets and sidewalks of Brotherly Love. Pretty much all we've got in town right now are slashing rains and chill.
Jan 4, 2014
Last night, we saw a ram with a pomegranate in Fitler Square, Philadelphia.
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Jan 22, 2014
On a day like this, all the neighborhood cats stayed indoors snoozing by the heater.
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Jan 23, 2014
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Feb 14, 2014
"Woman on sled being pulled by biplane, with Washington Monument in the background." February 1922.
(Image credit: Harris & Ewing via Shorpy)
Feb 15, 2014
Friday was a leapin' good snow day for dogs in Durham, North Carolina.
(Image credit: Carol Stack)
Feb 17, 2014
Marco's rock is right on track for the U.S. of A.
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Nov 9, 2014
On August 13, Hank and about a dozen other climbers summited Yanaphaqcha, an 18,000-foot peak in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. As they neared the top of the mountain, they were engulfed in thick clouds spitting snow. "What you see around me in the picture," Hank says, "that was the view from the top."
(Image credit: Hank Stein)
Jan 10, 2015
Last January, when this picture was taken, Rittenhouse Square looked plenty wintery. The snow hasn't been as deep this January, but the cold has been, if anything, even deeper. Which just goes to show, except that actually it doesn't.
(Image credit: Little Fuji)
Jan 27, 2015
In 1899, snow was shoveled off busy Manhattan streets, loaded into wagons, and hauled down to the docks, where it was dumped in the river.
Nowadays, the EPA doesn't like for states or municipalities to dump dirty snow from city streets into rivers or, as in the case of Portland, Maine, into the ocean. Portland used to throw its snow from downtown into the harbor, but it now builds mountains of snow, dump-truckload after dump-truckload, in an empty field near the airport.
New York City trucks its snow to melting machines, known as snow dragons, which can melt thirty tons of snow an hour and discharge the meltwater into the city sewer sytem. In an emergency, however, such as a ridiculously huge blizzard, we are told that the EPA will look the other way while the city rids its streets of snow the old-timey way.
(Image credit: Detroit Publishing Co via Shorpy)
Feb 22, 2015
We offer a robust winter sports program here in Kater Street. See, for example.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Apr 13, 2015
A surprise autumn cold snap attacked New Zealand's South Island this week, with deep snow burying the mountains and lighter snowfalls covering the ground at elevations as low as 100 meters above sea level. This scene was on the road between Mossburn and Te Anau, near New Zealand's southwestern coast.
According to MetService meteorologist Richard Finnie, the wintry storm was like a bit of June in April: "It's not an early winter," he said, "just an early taste of winter." The cold front was expected to sweep northward across the country and then give way to more normal fall conditions within a few days.
(Image credit: Otago Daily Times)
Feb 4, 2016
Ten or so days ago, when Philly got whacked by a pretty good thump of snow, this guy was the only one out driving around in the neighborhood, until he wasn't.
He was going the wrong way up 24th Street–and really, why not? There were no other cars on the road. But he slipped and slid, and then he was digging and digging. . . .
One of the neighbors brought him some cardboard, which was eventually helpful, but nobody offered to help him shovel, which might have made a more immediate contribution. (In our own defense, it is noted here that ever since last August, when we moved into an apartment, we no longer own a snow shovel.)
It's warmed up now and rained, and the snow is disappearing. Maybe this next month will bring us more winter, but maybe not.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Feb 9, 2016
The 170th birthday of Claude Monet in November 2011 was marked by, among other festivities, a Photoshop competition sponsored by FreakingNews.com. The challenge was to Photoshop a composite image introducing modern elements into a Monet painting.
The winning entry, shown above, was submitted by somebody who logged into the competition as azwoodbox. That's a train à grande vitesse, imitating Monet's 1875 train below.
(Photoshopped image by azwoodbox; painting by Claude Monet.
Feb 13, 2016
Gravitational waves–the warping of spacetime predicted by Einstein and confirmed the other day by a bunch of astrophysicists–may account for this awesome icicle hanging from a porch roof near Winthrop, Washington.
The way we understand it, which is undoubtedly not correct, the physicists measured data regarding a collision between two black holes and detected gravitational waves propagating outward from the event, kinda like sound waves rippling out from the ringing of the cosmic spacetime bell.
So. Obviously, this here icicle got caught up in some serious gravitational ripples. That, or the snow on the roof was seriously sliding and slumping and refreezing as the icicle was drippily trying to grow (see below). Hope the astrophysicists have ruled out that possible source of noise in their data.
(Image credits: h/t cliffmass.blogspot.com
Feb 16, 2016
Presidents' Day has already come and gone, and they still haven't taken down the Valentine's decorations.
(Image credit: Fuji T)
Mar 6, 2016
Early March in Mongolia is horse-racing season.
(Image credit: Reuters)
Jan 5, 2018
Mabel sits and yawns on a sunny ridge near Mount Rainier last week, showing off her Happy New Year hat.
(Image credit: Harrison Stein)
Jan 6, 2018
In the wintry weather currently gripping eastern North America, icy mounds of frozen spray, known as sugarloaves, are growing huge atop frozen rivers below not-quite-fully-frozen waterfalls. There's a sugarloaf at the base of Niagara Falls this year, and also one at Montmorency Falls near Québec City; the falls at Montmorency are some 98 feet higher than Niagara and are located almost a thousand kilometers to the northeast, in a climate zone where every winter is plenty cold enough to make a sugarloaf.
The painting shown above, The Ice Cone, by Robert Clow Todd, shows Montmorency Falls and its sugarloaf in the winter of 1845. The place looked pretty much the same when we visited, in the winter of 2004, minus the horses, of course.
Tall, cone-shaped things with slightly blunted tips are often called sugarloaves, especially if they are ski resorts or a mountain in Rio de Janeiro with a statue on top. That's because real, old-school sugarloaves–actual hard, solid loaves of refined sugar–were produced in molds shaped like that. Up until the end of the nineteenth century, when manufacturing processes emerged to refine sugar into a granulated product, people who could afford to buy white sugar–meaning rich people–bought it by the loaf, which might weigh as much as 30 or 35 pounds. They chipped off pieces as needed, using heavy, sharp-edged pliers known as sugar nips.
The sugarloaves pictured below are on display in the Sugar Museum in Berlin.
(Art by Robert Clow Todd)
Mar 23, 2018
(Image credit: Michele Manno)
Mar 31, 2018
A camel is the beast of choice for hauling shepherds on their sled across the steppes of southern Siberia, near the Mongolian border.
An estimated two million of the two-humped Bactrian camels live today throughout central Asia, most of them domesticated for work as pack animals, a job they've been doing since ancient times. Like their one-humped cousins in north Africa and the Middle East, Bactrian camels are drought-tolerant; they can also survive extreme cold and high altitude.
The shepherds riding in the sled are from the Russian Republic of Tuva, where they tend a flock of sheep and goats that must travel long distances to find good pasturage throughout the year.
Republic of Tuva
(Image credit: Ilya Naymushin for Reuters)