Frost, frost, and a pot of beans

Dust of Snow

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by Robert Frost (1923)
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The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.



OK, I surrender. It's mid-January in the Rockies and winter, in its hard glory, has enveloped us. My thermometer registered -4 degrees a couple nights ago and this morning's sunrise infused ice crystals everywhere, just for a moment, with chill redness. I was half-asleep but that ephemeral sight woke me, harsh and beautiful as it was.

The patchwork pale blue sky that has followed is harbinger of a warming trend—it may reach into the 20s today and upward another 30 degrees by week's end. As always after a storm here, there will follow ample Colorado sunshine, and that's a promise I've come to count on.

Winter has its charms, and we waited for them on the Front Range through an extended, balmy autumn, characterized by soft breezes and short-sleeve weather up through solstice and even beyond. But only a few days beyond. Moderate but persistent snows have iced the streets since then and single-digit temps greet us in the mornings.

My house is warm this morning, so I can sit with a cup of steaming black coffee and contemplate frost as an abstraction. Well I know that not everyone has such a vantage point. Thinking along those lines compelled me outside in my slippers and t-shirt to snap a few images. Interesting experiment. Note: after a minute or so, you can actually feel your skin shrink and stiffen around you. Try it.

Back inside, I had two tasks this morning. One is to climb a hill of course materials and plant a flag. That flag will claim, symbolically, something like this: I have planned the coursework as well as I can and we are ready to enter. My notes are in their binders and hidden between the concepts and conversations that will flow in coming weeks are my best efforts to create learning as a kind of magic journey.

Magic? Well, not literally. There are demonstrable ways to show human progress through curriculum and the grasping and implementation of ideas and forms. But the learning environment—whether it be in a group of students sitting in cheap seats around tables in a nondescript 21st-century classroom or a gaggle of hungry young Greek men following Aristotle around the grounds of the Lyceum—is tinged with an intangible magic, just as those snow crystals catch for an instant the red light of sunrise. At least it can be so, in the best cases. That's my goal: to build glimmers into the learning environment and sustain that light as long as possible.

So that's Task #1—to cook up no fewer than seven college-level courses and prepare to serve up the first portions next week. I'll be getting to it as soon as I finish here.

Task #2—cook up a pot of Cajun Red Beans & Rice.

You can see the steam here but sadly, no blog can offer the delicious aromas borne on that steam. It's 8:30 a.m. on a January morning and my house smells like a kitchen on a back street in New Orleans. I'll let this pot of beans simmer all day long and when dusk falls and gives way to a freezing night, I'll serve up this meal for my wife. She, too, is a teacher. We need fortification.

Winter can numb you if you don't have perspective on it. Frost (the poet, not the phenomenon) makes his point succinctly in the little poem that opens this entry. I won't elucidate because I don't have to. It's absolutely clear there.

Another favorite poet of mine, Galway Kinnell, once wrote, "Clarity turns out to be an invisible form of sadness." Winter is a good time to contemplate such thoughts, not so as to find some answer—what answer could there be? And anyway, what was the question? Contemplation doesn't have to lead anywhere but to itself; some would call that meditation, although the distinction is between filling and emptying thought.

I can do neither. Mere thinking won't suffice; I've got a couple tasks to complete and the results must be tangible—for others, not for myself. It's good work to do and it's the season to do it. And the house sure does smell wonderful right now.