If, like mine, your heart gets pounding faster with a stark contrast, then you must have already noticed that we’re in a fire and ice time of year.
First, the ice. Asserting itself in streams that persist in running, the trying-to-be-firm stuff is always valiant in seeking to overtake the water.
But anyone with a dog around here already knows that the coveted (by dogs, mostly) daily walks have gotten a bit challenging in the past few days. Not so much because of the snow— my Rocky loves the stuff, sees no reason not to clamor for his usual tennis ball fetching after a good storm, pouncing on the fluorescent green treasure as if he were a wolf finding a mouse – but more because of that vexing layer of ice on top that makes running through it, without snowshoes, pretty challenging.
Crunchy is one thing, but when you only have one set of paws and they’re your actual feet, the jaggedness of the pushing down each time must get annoying.
So when we’ve been outside together, with me trying to do manual labor—pounding the cakes of iced snow so they eventually loosen — on the driveway since I can’t start that blasted snow-blower when my husband is away at meetings, Rocky eventually resigns himself to becoming quieter than usual.
How weird, though, to come inside, turn on the news, and see the conflagrations in California. The pictures are frightening, and the reality must be much worse. If we needed any reminders that this is indeed a huge country, we are certainly getting those now. New Englanders, surely most of us anyway, feel such sympathy and shock about the flames burning out of control through thousands of acres — for the homeowners, for the politicians trying to maintain safety, for the people reporting from helicopters, and of course for the brave and exhausted firefighters.
I heard Governor Jerry Brown say that the understanding in the rest of the country, based on the images we’re seeing, is Southern California is on its way to burning up entirely. Those of us with loved ones there, I include myself, know that we all would leave our icy surroundings and be enlisted in the battle before that could happen.
Scientists say, choosing their words carefully, that while climate change is not alone responsible for the fires, it certainly is a contributing factor, and will continue to be.
This is pretty frightening, striking a kind of chill in our souls, if it’s possible to have both cold and hot together in that way.
Perhaps Robert Frost had a hunch we would have a strange December like this. Back in 1920, he wrote this amazing poem:
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.
Might it have been the devastation of World War I that began to get him musing about the end of the world? There was no nuclear bomb yet to worry about. Surely, he wasn’t religious in a way that would get him thinking about the End Time. The word “Armageddon” wasn’t circulating, and the movie wouldn’t hit screens until more than 75 years later.
No, perhaps not. But poets are prophets, and their “job” is to bring to mind issues that may lie dormant inside us or that we’d rather not think about — to put them right down on the page in such a deft way that we’re tantalized.
Probably the most brilliant aspect of this poem about such a weighty subject is the laid back tone, the humor even. “But if it had to perish twice…” He avoids the word “death” but it hangs over the whole little thing. So, though, does the word “desire” and, unsaid, its close ally, “love.” If something that we know to be so beautiful– the essence of life really — can also bring about terrible tragedy, we are always in a perilous time. And conversely, “hate” is always capable of doing just as much damage. Accustomed to the word “suffice” being used to mean an upbeat “be enough”— like spices in soup, say – we arrive at the explosive irony of the last line.
Most days, I don’t let my mind go to the possibility of the world coming to an end. The length of my to-do list always seems to squeeze that kind of contemplation out; but, if I did drift over to this dark topic, I think I would try to find the best kinds of fire and ice available every day and celebrate them both, for as long as possible.
What a relief, then that we have the candles of the season, both for Advent and for Hannukah,
to comfort us when we come in from the cold. We can sit in front of them and offer up hope that California can find its own equilibrium soon, and that humanity as a whole will have smarter ways of co-existing with the earth, the sun, the wind, the rain, the plants, and all the animals.
In chilly New England, we might also hope for one of the best gifts of the post-Christmas season: ice on ponds, for skating.