Stone Coats

The latest page in my pocket notebook contains two notes. The first reads:

The loneliness of
forgotten deities

I jotted down this fragment of a thought three evenings ago. I have no idea where I was going with it.

The second is an observation recorded yesterday afternoon, as I sat in my parents’ kitchen eating a late lunch. (They’re away; I’m doing caretaker duty.)

Sitting in kitchen
staring out window
toward barn. A ladybug
crawls across window
through field of vision
just as a squirrel
climbs up the side
of the barn. They cross;
the beetle appears
twice as large as squirrel
and occludes it.

Everything that came between the first thought and the second – two whole days and nights – is represented by a single blank line in the notebook. What happened? Nothing and everything.

Three days ago the snow was soft and light. When I tossed apple cores out the front door, they disappeared into the yard without a sound. Then the temperature climbed above freezing and the snow softened and sank. Yesterday, my apple cores made plopping sounds. Then last night the temperature dove back down into the single digits. Today, apple cores bounce. (I eat a lot of apples.)

I sat outside between 4:30 and 5:00 this morning listening to the trees pop from the cold. The moon was just past full and shone brightly, making the tree trunks seem especially skinny and naked. Mornings like these have a beautiful kind of bleakness to them. I heard a deer crunching slowly along several hundred feet away.

Some Indians referred to January as the Wolf Moon, but for others, it was (and maybe still is) the Moon of Popping Trees. A story I found on the Internet gives the spotlight to Coyote rather than Wolf:

The Northern Cheyenne called the first moon of the year the ‘Moon of Popping Trees’ when the people hid inside their houses as the Frost Giant walked the land while striking the cottonwood trees so hard with his club that they cracked beneath the blows. The wise Coyote learned the Giant’s song and could sing him to sleep. So now the people hide inside when the Giant walks and the cottonwoods crack unless the singing of the coyotes assures them that the Giant sleeps.

Unfortunately, the coyotes have been silent lately, though their tracks are everywhere. So I guess it’s no wonder the Frost Giant is making his rounds.

But the Seneca, here in Western Pennsylvania and New York, had a slightly different conception. They referred to the frost beings as Genonskwa, “Stone Coats.” The Genonskwa are fierce cannibals, but because of their rigid clothing, they are unable to bend, unable to look up at the sky.

I thought of this as I walked up to the top of the ridge not long after sunrise, my boots making a racket against the snow. Golden light flooded the treetops, and the air was so clear that every branch and twig stood out against the blue as sharply as lines in an etching or frost on a windowpane.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is no joke; I know several people who suffer from it. Can you imagine how depressed you’d get if you you could never even look at the sky? Poor hungry Genonskwa!

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