Cold eye

field study

Thursday, mid-morning. Crunching my way up across the field, the thick crust on eight inches of snow forces me to take my time, however much I might think that the real show is in the ridgetop woods, where a heavy coating of hoarfrost is rapidly disappearing from the trees. The sun is strong, and since I don’t own a pair of prescription sunglasses, I have to walk with one eye shut and the other squinting against the glare. Not that this stops me from snapping pictures, of course: dead weeds and grass are always especially photogenic with snow to provide a ready contrast and a smooth white screen for shadows.

I notice it’s my right eye that’s the more sensitive of the two; it’s less painful to squint through my left. Consequently, everything has a reddish or magenta hue, which is especially noticeable because the light is so strong. My right eye sees a more greenish or cyan world. I’ve always thought of my eyes as warm (left) vs. cold (right), and perhaps because I’m right-handed, I do favor the latter. I think you can see this in my photographs, where I so often skew the color balance toward cyan. To me, they just look better that way. But with my cold eye shut and the LCD screen on the back of my camera almost unreadable in the glare, I’m snapping pictures on faith. This turns out not to be a very good idea: none of them come anywhere near the pictures in my mind. Maybe Yeats was on to something with that sententious epitaph of his.

Friday, mid-morning. It’s overcast and warmer, near freezing. On my way up the path to my parents’ house, I come across another walker in the snow — some kind of caddisfly, I think. After a few minutes of walking on top of the snow, it slips under the crust. Perhaps it’s a little warmer under there, or the insect senses that the icy covering offers protection from feathered predators. I watch the dark blob moving under the crust and can still picture the folded wings, the Charlie Chaplin legs, and the inquisitive antennae feeling all over like the hands of someone playing blind man’s bluff, groping for anything warm.

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8 Replies to “Cold eye”

  1. When I played in the snow as I child, I would always build tunnels and hideaways under the ice-crust that formed over the snow. (This is when PA used to actually get a good dumping.) For me, it was an adventure. I liked to listen to the silence and loved the isolation. And it was warm — surprisingly warm — under the ice.

    I’ve been looking for a good snow mound around here to build another childhood hideaway, but there just isn’t enough snow anymore.

  2. I used to see a variety of these when I lived in Québec. They would come out near the river’s edge in March or April. As for the “cold eye”, I think it was definitely the poet’s anthropocentric view. Doubt that the caddisfly would have agreed if the question had been put to it.

  3. Dave, I’ll bet you could make a facsimile of Inuit sun glare goggles out of cardboard with just a slit for eyes. Might save your squint muscles and color correction at the same time.

  4. Beth Coyote, Lee’s river – Welcome! Thanks for dropping in.

    Gina Marie – Well, imagine how I feel. Back in the 70s, it really snowed some winters. Other than that, just a couple of good winters in the early 90s – that was it.

    I remember a snow/ice shelter that my dad built for us when I was 3 or 4, back when we still lived in Maine. The sense of isolation was wonderful, as you say.

    Lee’s River – I always took it an an exhortation to look at everything with equanimity – that’s the conventional interpretation, I guess – but something I found online said that the epitaph was actually addressed to the ghostly horsemen of Queen Meave on Ben Bulben, the mystic guardians of Irishness. Who knows? Another site claimed that Yeats isn’t even buried there, that the wrong body had been shipped back from France!

    Bitterroot – Well, I meant sententious in a good way, of course. :)

    Allan Peterson – I suppose I could. But we get so few sunny days in the winter and so little snow, I rarely have occasion to worry about it. It’s a good idea, though.

  5. HI, Tonya – Welcome to you also. (Three new visitors in one short thread! That must be a record.) Thanks for sharing that link – terrific essay. I’m not sure this post quite compares, but I’m flattered.

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