Fire And Ice

It’s been so cold for such a long spell lately that it’s got me thinking about cold and heat — and which is worse to endure for long periods.

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Extreme heat is bad for a lot of reasons.  It saps your energy, you’re a sweaty mess for most of the day, and — for me, at least — it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a hot room.  And, when a heat wave hits, you read stories about heat stroke and even death for people left in rooms without air conditioning.  Extreme cold is bad for a lot of reasons, too.  It’s uncomfortable and wearing to constantly feel chilled and shivery, bundling up produces hat head and static electricity shocks, and the cold, dry air leaves your skin feeling desiccated and cracked.  And extreme cold can produce frostbite and death, as well as sad news stories about unfortunate dogs being found frozen solid on porches in Toledo.

Right now, in the midst of an arctic blast that has kept temperatures in the single digits and teens for more than a week, I’m sure I would gladly trade brutal cold for heat — and come the next August hot spell, I’m equally certain I would happily swap terrible heat for cold.  But I think Robert Frost had it right in one of his early poems:  both heat and cold have their own distinctive destructive powers.

Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
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On Stone Walls And Robert Frost

The Lake Champlain region of upstate New York feels, to me at least, more like New England than like the mid-Atlantic states.  It is separated from rustic northern Vermont only by the blue waters of the lake, and the signs of a New England approach to life are everywhere evident.

For example, you cannot take a walk on a country lane without seeing many stone walls, in various stages of repair and disrepair.  Some are clean and sharp-edged, some are rambling and covered with flowers, and others are vine-covered, weedy, and completely unattended, only a year or two away from full-scale collapse and a wholesale return to nature.

And who can see a stone wall without thinking of Robert Frost?  His wonderful poem of ruminations on stone walls, their inevitable decline and decay, and his annual meeting with his neighbor to replace the stones in their common wall, Mending Wall, begins as follows:

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The poem is full of Frost’s curiousity and impishness.  It is too long to reprint in full in this post, but it is available here.  The poem famously concludes:

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Last weekend, during the dark, pre-dawn hours, I took Penny for a walk to the wooded area behind the library.  In the dimness Penny stared intently into the woods, as if looking for small animals that might be moving through the underbrush, and I found myself looking intently into the woods as well.  As the snowflakes drifted down around us, the woods indeed looked lovely, and romantic, and a bit scary all at the same time.

I don’t often think of poetry, but I found myself recalling one of Robert Frost’s better-known pieces, which probably is one of the best “snow poems” every penned:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.