Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snow Man

One of the more accessible poems of the American poet Wallace Stevens is The Snow Man.  The first three stanzas follow:

One must have a mind of winter
to regard the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

and have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter

of the January sun;  and not to think
of any misery in the sound of the wind,
in the sound of a few leaves..

I loved winter when I was a boy and well into my young manhood.  As a very small child (so I've been told) I liked to play outside in November without a shirt.  Later I welcomed winter at the rural home where I lived.  I trekked  through the woods and fields tracking animals.  I played at being in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  (Cowboys and Indians never seemed to have winter in their movies.)
In my teens, I ran a trapline which meant I had to rise before dark every winter morning and walk the fields and streams to remove any trapped animals there might be.  Most mornings the walk was for naught, but the walk itself was a joy.
Forty-seven years ago, I worked to build a ski area in southeastern New York State.  When it opened in December, I stayed on as assistant manager.  This was in the early days of the new popularity for skiing when snowmaking was a trial-by-error, hit-and-miss enterprise.  We learned quickly that the 4" aluminum pipe water line that ran up the side of the slope required an open outlet at the end of the pipe to keep the water running.  Without it, the water began to freeze in the pipe.
One brutally cold windy night, the water froze quickly and, before anything could be done, 44 lengths of 4" diameter aluminum pipe were frozen so solid that 2 or 3 splits appeared in each length.  All next day we (four men)  worked to disconnect the pipe and move it down to thaw out inside the maintenance shed.  As each length emptied out, it was carried into the garage and, using an acetylene torch, we welded the splits shut to reuse the pipe.  It was cold hard work performed under great pressure, but I loved every minute of it.
Like the Snow Man, I guess I had 'the mind of winter'. I saw trees crusted with snow and shagged with ice, and I never thought of any misery in the sound of the wind.   I saw beauty and heard music.

12/30/09:  I am adding a postscript to the above.  I have lived fulltime in south Florida since 1991.  Presently we are going through a cold spell where night time temps are in the low to mid 40's.  This happens about six or seven times each winter.  Whenever it does occur, I am reminded that I am not the Snow Man any more.  I could not endure a northern winter today.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Oursourcing Our Freedom

Jeremy Scahill wrote this for Americans to know because no major media outlets, electronic or print, are keeping us advised about the dangerous changes in the way our country conducts war and foreign policy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


"Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including 30 million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty.  No, I do not wish you success.  I don't even want to talk about it.  I want to talk about failure.
Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure.  You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss.  You will find you're weak when you thought yourself strong.  You'll work for possessions and then find they possess you.  You will find yourself - as I know you already have - in dark places, alone and afraid.
What I hope for you, for all of my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place  To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies."

Ursula K. LeGuin
from a commencement speech at Mills College, May 22, 1983

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Delmore Effect

While researching the life and works of the poet Delmore Schwartz, I learned that a tenet of modern psychology had been named for him called the Delmore Effect.
The term is the concept of one Paul Whitmore and it appears in his dissertation for PHD which was submitted the Psychiatric Department of Stanford University in 2000.
He defines it thusly: "The daunting nature of truly important goals may motivate the self to deflect this anxiety by attending to less important, but also less threatening goals."
The idea came to Mr. Whitmore after reading Selected Essays Of Delmore Schwartz. In the introduction to this book, the editors (Dike, D. & Zucker, D.) wrote: "A likely guess would be that an extended essay or book on Joyce was one of Delmore's long entertained projects and that he never accomplished the project precisely because he thought of it as crucial."

I wonder. Do I suffer from the Delmore Effect? Could that be the cause for this blog?
If so, I am in good company. Poor Delmore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Summing Up

In the Beginning was the Word.
In the Word was the lie.
In the End, we learn the lie.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Pagan's Prayer

Nights without churches,
Days without banks:
For these conditions
I would give thanks.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pfferneuse : The Recipe

Earlier this year I posted a piece of light verse titled "Pfferneuse".  Someone emailed me about the post and has asked for the recipe I have used over the years.
It was my grandmother's handwritten recipe so I am not sure how old it is.  She was born in 1876 and died in 1967.

1 cup soft shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
4 tbsp anise seed
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
6-2/3 cups flour

Cream the shortening and sugar until smooth.  Add the eggs and spices and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the molasses, water and baking soda, mix together and add to the above.  Add flour and mix thoroughly.  (you will need an extra large bowl).
Chill at least 4 hours.  Then mold into long rolls 1/2" in diameter.  Cut into pieces 1/2" thick.  Place one cut side down on greased baking tins.  Bake in oven 400 degrees 8 minutes.  They should be as large and as brown as hazel nuts and makes about 400.

Now, let me say that I have never made pfferneuse exactly according to her directions.  I always felt that hazel nut size was too small.  And she doesn't mention powdered sugar coating.  So my modification of the recipe follows:  I use the same ingredients and prepare as per the recipe.  However I chill the dough overnight.  I mold into rolls about 1-1/4" in diameter and cut them 1/2" thick.  This will give you cookies about the same size as seen for sale in bakeries.  I do not grease the cookie sheet.  8 minutes is still just about the right time for baking. When cool, I put one cup of confectioner's sugar in a plastic bag, drop in the pfferneuse and shake to coat with the sugar.  Store in an airtight tin or container.  I usually get about twelve dozen cookies at this size.