“When are you going to show us what your goddamned head looks like?” I said, and he doffed his black knit cap. Underneath it was just as I suspected: freshly shaved that morning. An odd thing to do in the middle of the winter, he admitted. But the bumps and ridges of his skull didn’t stand out as they would have on a white person; this was no bleak winter landscape. When we went out, he pulled a second cap over the first.
I thought of the phrenologists of a hundred years ago, their lying science one of the pillars of racism and eugenics. So sure were they of the superior cranial capacity of Europeans, Stephen Jay Gould tells us, they unconsciously packed the little measuring pebbles more tightly into any skull known to have belonged to someone with darker skin. The trouble is, there never was any demonstrable link between cranial capacity and intelligence. The largest skull ever measured belonged to a severely retarded man.
Last night the almost-full moon glowing through a thin cloud cover enticed me into taking a long walk down along Laurel Ridge and back up the hollow. It was very quiet, apart from the crunch of my boots in the thawed-and-refrozen snow. I couldn’t take my eyes off the yellow moon, more perfect perhaps for the veil that hid its mountains and craters. No wonder bald monastics revere the moon as a symbol of attainment – especially those whose skin is as pale as the skull beneath it. But an African monk might get the last laugh, I’m thinking, whenever the earth’s shadow blocks the sun and reveals the moon’s true face. I remember how it looked last October, that sepulchral orange.
There was no perceptible immigration of clouds from the west. It was a snow sky, thickening hour by hour like a Béchamel sauce on the lowest possible heat. When I went out again at 9:30 to empty the garbage, the moon had grown as blurry as a flashlight in the fog. By first light this morning, over an inch of fine snow had already fallen.
It’s bread day. I find myself paying attention to what my hands do as I knead, taking a generous pinch of the white flour I use to keep the dough from sticking to the board and swirling it always in a counter-clockwise direction with my right hand, then rolling the brown ball back with my left, pushing in with the heels of both hands, folding it over, giving it a half turn to the right, push, fold, turn. In less than ten repetitions the last trace of white has vanished and it’s beginning to stick again. I slide the scraper across the board and give the dough a few more kneads, but now it won’t let go of my fingers; it coats my skin.
More dusting, more kneading, until the dough reaches just the right level of resilience. Then back in the bowl it goes to rise, doubling and tripling in size within the course of an hour. Wooden spoon, wooden board, steel scraper, ceramic bowl, worn dishtowel: the bread draws charisma from plain and earthy tools.
By tonight, judging from the weather forecasts, a thick new layer of snow will erase the ground’s imperfections, burying odors, muffling all sounds. For those who live far from the woods, this storm will be just another dreary nuisance – the proverbial wet blanket. For true enchantment you need somewhere for the eye to rest: dark trunks. A scandal of limbs. In a world of pure white, they say, the Inuit hunter hallucinates moving shadows, slinking, stalking, swallowing the light.