A fresh wind blew in yesterday — a strong warm wind that reduced piles of snow into slush pools. A big, high wind. The kind that starts in the Texas Gulf then sweeps through Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio on its way to Ontario, pushing aside all lesser weather fronts along the way.
It was a welcome wind, taking temperatures north of freezing for the first time in weeks. It’s been a cold winter. Cold and snowy. The kind of winter beloved by travel agents selling Island packages to Canadians fed up with being cold and restricted.
The restrictions are worse than the cold. When the sidewalks ice, not even the toy snowplows that clean them can clear a reliable walking path. The guys on the plows do their best, if it isn’t before 9 or after 5, or the weekend, but once the ice layers lock down, they stay until the temperatures rise above freezing. I’m avoiding some of my favourite park areas due to the icy footing.
I walked to the library in a light coat, no scarf, and no hat or gloves. The wind blew my hair in one direction, then another. I drank the warm air into my nose and deep into my lungs, recalling Emily Dickinson — “Inebriate of air am I.” Gulls circled overhead, surfing the air currents.
Waiting for me on the hold shelf was a copy of The Eloquent Essay: An Anthology of Classic & Creative Nonfiction, edited by John Loughery, containing seventeen essays by writers ranging from George Orwell and W.H. Auden to Joan Didion, Carl Sagan, and Barbara Kingsolver. I tucked the book into my backpack and stork-walked across the pools and puddles to Starbucks.
I glanced through the book as soon as I found a seat — Starbucks is crowded on a late Saturday afternoon. George Orwell’s “A Hanging” (1931). Lord, it’s been years since I last read that one. I saved it for later, knowing it packs a whollop.
I’d never read Joan Didion though I’ve come across her name often lately, so I started my reading with “Georgia O’Keeffe” (1976). I’ve been fascinated by O’Keeffe for years, ever since first seeing one of her large canvases of a bleached cow skull in the desert. It was hung in the library at Arizona State University and it stopped me in my tracks. The essay had bite, punch, and colour. Didion described O’Keeffe as a “hard woman” and I could see her point. O’Keeffe’s bare honesty, honed by the New Mexico landscape, was absolute.
Next up, Carl Sagan, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” from his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995). I’d read the book previously so there were no surprises — just a pleasant visit with a dear, departed friend. Sagan, who did so much to popularize science and rational thinking to the public, has long been one of my inspirations.
Then it was time to head home for dinner and rejoin the family for the evening. When I’m alone at Starbucks I’m a writing kind of person. When I return home, I’m just one of the family. Marion and I watched a video on the life of Jane Austen, then sat back and re-watched a couple of episodes of season two of Angel. But The Eloquent Essay remains in my backpack, ready for the morning’s walk to the coffee shop, waiting to infect me with prose spirit.