Thursday, May 02, 2013
Before six already, it's light these days; and, really, if (for once) the sky is clear, the western sky burns 'till almost nine. There's something really freakish about what's happening this spring, freakish and bedeviling. Two weeks ago, I went out, camera in hand, on a Saturday morning, absolutely confident that it would be the last time I'd see snow in the viewfinder.
Fat chance. Since that time we've had a score of storms, it seems, including yesterday, May 1. Right now, it's light already, even though there is no dawn, and it just shouldn't be. The ground is lit with a new, clean layer of snow. Just about everybody I know is sick unto death of a bad-guest winter that simply won't leave.
What I'm saying is, things are just not right--there's something rotten in the state of Iowa, and you can feel it somehow in your perceptions. Three days ago, a whole gang of new songbirds alighted on the feeder just outside our window, and the river's been alive with cormorants and geese and pelicans and a thousand little toy-like ducks from another world. It's supposed to be spring. Something in the DNA pronounces it such. In fact, it's supposed to be early summer almost. By May 10, my son's birthday, the trees should be fully leaved--that's how we remember. Right now, they're all shivering skeletons--this cold, cloudless morning, they're all symbols of death, not resurrection.
Just east of here, the river takes a hairpin turn where an old man said there used to be no end to the Native American artifacts. I've not found any myself, but then I'm not looking. When I've gone there, it's to visit the beaver dam, which, by the way, didn't make it through the winter. But I can stand on the bank and look at the landscape for hours, trying to visualize what some Yankton Sioux would have seen out here back then, say 1810 or so, not all that far from the spot where, just a few years earlier, Lewis and Clark first spotted buffalo.
What would those Yanktons have thought of this bedeviled spring? They too would have climbed out from under their buffalo robes this morning and scratched their heads just like I did, befuddled by the absurd juxtaposition of so much light and so pitiable little heat--and snow, still snow. It's May!
There is, thank goodness, still a little primitive in all of us, I think, something in my system that whispers out the truth: something here isn't right, something is out of whack. Beneath the snow out side my window, the grass is perfectly emerald. There's just something wrong.
Last night I visited the local museum, a place blessed with stories, a hundred thousand of them, a couple hundred alone drawn into an old buffalo hide, and penciled into a circle of indecipherable symbols, one a year--a Native American calendar called a winter count. It's as big as a wall. We can only guess at the meanings now, sadly enough. That winter count is the means by which some Lakota, way back when, did history--"this was the year there were no wild plums," "this was the year the river decided to move." No one has any idea, I suppose, what the pictographs intend to remember, even though it's fun to guess.
I'm thinking this cold morning that I were to set up a teepee out there at the beaver dam, right where the Yanktons used to like to camp; and if I were to stretch out the family's buffalo hide on some stretcher made from cottonwood branches, I'd maybe draw something like this--snow over long grass.
Or maybe this: trees shorn of branches.
Except, back then, other than a few cottonwoods along the creeks and rivers, there were no trees, which means those Yankton wouldn't have suffered like we did during an ice storm a couple weeks ago that made town look tornado-ravaged.
Still, I bet all that ice would have brought down a teepee or two, and that would be memorable--and worth a sketch on a buffalo hide.
Outside right now the cold northwest wind is blowing over fields still powdered in snow. It's May, and Tulip Time is probably doomed.
Maybe that's it. The year of plants and no blooms. Wait a minute--that was last year.
One way or another, this is a winter to remember.
If I only had a buffalo hide.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:44 AM