Saturday, May 25, 2013


If you’re sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, the wait becomes more bearable when strangers strike up a conversation with you. If you live in a small town in Tennessee, you’re more likely to get into some serious talking in a doctor’s office than you would if you lived in a large city in the East. Last week, I scheduled three lab tests on three different days in Monteagle, Tennessee and spent a lot of my week sitting on uncomfortable chairs waiting for my name to be called so I could undergo what I call “Dachau experiments.” However, I was entertained in several waiting rooms by native Tennesseans talking about their favorite subject: the weather.
In one doctor’s office, I had just settled in my chair when a woman asked me if I spelled my name with one “n” or two. She had heard the nurse call my name and figured out an entrĂ©e into a parley with me. She was a naturally garrulous woman, probably in her early 70’s, who had a list of ailments and troubles as long as one of my sermons, but she delivered them cheerfully, then turned to the subject of weather.
Blackberry flowers
“We’re fixing to have a blackberry winter,” she said. “The blackberry bushes in my backyard are blooming.”
“Never heard of it,” I told her. “Seems like we’ve had enough winter up here already.”
“It’s a cold snap that happens in late spring when blackberries are blooming,” she said. “But you got to be careful if you go blackberry picking because the snakes is out. I seen four king snakes and two copperheads already.”
“Then you won’t see me doing any picking,” I told her. “We just call blackberry winters ‘freak cold snaps’ back home in Louisiana. “The weather there is pretty hospitable right now – it’s summer in Cajun country.”
“Well, up here we have blackberry winters, locust winters, redbud winters, and dogwood winters. Old folks didn’t have calendars like we do and they just relied on nature to tell them things. We had a dogwood winter in early May last winter, right about the time the dogwood started blooming. Farmers know it isn’t a good idea to plant until after those dogwoods bloom.”
Dogwood flowers
“Never heard of any of these winters. Of course, we only have about two months of real winter down where I live – December and January. Maybe February.”
“We got another name for a cold spell in the spring,” she interrupted. “It’s called Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter – it means that when the cold spell finishes, you can put away your long johns ” (as if I wore them).
I forgot about this conversation until I checked the temperature gauge on the front porch yesterday morning and saw that temps had dipped to 59 degrees. The high for the day was 67 degrees. When I checked the weather report online, I read that the low temperature predicted for last night was 46 degrees, and when I got up 7 a.m., the temp was 56 degrees!  These temps couldn’t be called wintry, but the weather is certainly brisk this morning. My new friend had been right on the money!
I didn’t tell this new friend that two months ago I wrote a poem entitled “Too Much Gray in the Day,” a wry bit of verse about returning to the gray weather of Sewanee in still-cold March. She seemed fairly acclimated to the somber winters here on The Mountain and even welcomed a blackberry winter.
The poem will be published in a new book of poetry I’m working on during this blackberry winter:

Seventy years passed
before I figured out weather matters.
I had to move away from humid air
caught in the branches of old oaks
overhanging rusty bayou water,
climb 2,000 feet to find another home
where the dry air of the Cumberland
and ice in March
convinced me weather matters
in the sum mood of things;

a perpetual gray mist
can stupefy, cause you to slip
backwards into a metaphysical trance,
court oblivion or to consider
the end of the world,
hurl yourself over a barren cliff;

fall into the chasm of depression
just because the snow won’t melt,
and the March sun is white light;
the energy you thought was stored up
for a long winter’s day
is topped out, disappeared into
an eternity of wind,
telephone wires humming with frost,
snow in the bird bath.

I put on socks, turn up the volume
of Mozart’s Sonatas in A and D,
hoping the musical vibrations,
even at low volume,
will cause a seasonal change,
make the thermometer rise.

Using a long wooden spoon
I stir a pot of lentil soup,
making a grandmother kitchen,
steaming up the double glass windows,
consider calling everyone I know
back home on the bayou
where a south wind
blows over the slow-moving stream,
a perfect arrangement of essential warmth,
good to think about
when you’re too far from the equator,
too old to consider ice skating
or a cruise to Alaska,
or to appreciate the melancholy clouds
drifting across the wintry sun…
a bristling wolf pacing outside.
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