Morning, calm and cold and clear. The equinox a few days ago was the earliest Spring Equinox in 120 years. Curious about this, I learned that this odd timing was the result of a long-ago Papal edict as to which years could be Leap Years. All somewhat arcane, but the result this year was passage directly abeam our star at 04:30 Zulu March 20, or 10:30 p.m. here, on the evening of March nineteenth. (Looked it up on the Inter-tube, as my friend Loren calls it. More on that to follow.)
And no March equinoctial winds! Right from the start back in November, this has been the most windless winter anyone here can recall. Out on the seventy-mile ice sheet of McLeod Bay the surface is just smooth white fluff, mile after mile.
Cold and clear, but nothing unusual about that. In 2004 it was 44 below on this morning in March. It’s 37 below zero here this morning, and the weather soothsayers predict more cold weather here for the coming weeks into April.
Spring Equinox is not a warm day here, but it is a solar event everywhere on the planet, and the sun is streaming through the window already this morning. When I stepped out to the porch earlier, the last white top arc of the full moon was sliding below the burnt spruce tops on the skyline of the Bluefox ridge. Over breakfast yesterday we smugly reminded each other that we are now getting more daylight than anyone at any latitude to the south, and that we will be raking in those golden payback chips for the next six months. We are happily soaking it in as our faces lose that December plate-of cold-pasta pallor and turn browner by the day.
Again and again in recent weeks this end of the big lake and the automatic weather station at Fort Reliance have been pegged as the cold spot in the Northwest Territories, and on some of those mornings Reliance (and by proximity the Hoarfrost valley) have been “the cold spot in Canada.” Which is saying something, and makes me wonder about where the cold spot in the entire world, at a given moment, would be. (But then there are, say, the summits of tall mountains to contend with, and the fact that these various claims all come from just a handful of weather stations, sprinkled here and there around the planet. Still it is amusing, at least to me, to wonder – right now, at this instant, might this be the coldest place on the surface of the planet? – and to think that sometimes maybe it could. I can hear a couple of my more adventurous friends snorting already – “clearly this guy has never been to the South Pole or the summit of Makalu.”)
I digress, as usual. Friends of the young John Muir in Madison Wisconsin used to say that he would start out talking about the weather and carry on to bend their ear for an hour. What a treat that must have been. That rich brogue, rambling on.
“I am of two minds on that.” Sounds like the statement of a powdered-wig Parliamentarian. But a scary thing has happened to me, a dream. It has come more than once, and most recently just a few days ago. I first experienced this maybe eight years ago. Just a guess when that was, but I know we were in the old house, the one we have now lost, because I remember waking up from the dream in that bed. I know we must have had Internet access, which came here via satellite signal in the autumn of 2006. That advent, in this place, given the fact that when we came here our communication with “the outside world” – interesting phrase – was sporadic and unreliable to say the least, was no less than a revolution.
I woke and realized with a jolt that in my dream I had been on the computer. Not just looking at it, or reading something from a screen, but dreaming and at the same time moving the cursor, clicking, opening and closing things, sending and receiving notes and information. And as I said, this same dream-experience has recurred now several times over the years. The other night, or early in the pre-dawn morning of vivid dreaming, it happened again, and got me thinking. I woke up and asked Kristen whether this had ever happened to her. She said it had not. Hmm.
I am a little scared about this. Not so much because of the dreaming, but because as I considered this turn of my mental events a little further I began to notice some daydreaming of the same kind. I can be running a dogteam, or flying a plane or working on the woodpile, and on some level a part of my mind is doing something on the damned computer. Whoa.
Earlier this winter I spent a long stretch, far too long for my liking, in Yellowknife. Work was of course the reason. The limited daylight and some charter flying had me based there for nearly a week. One afternoon I was piloting my little rental car down the main drag, and I watched with amazement as a fellow on the curb stepped out into the street and crossed – because the light had changed to green for him – four lanes of traffic without ever once looking up from the screen of his phone. It made me wonder when Darwinian reality in the form of a Ford pickup was going to smack into him. Then, telling a pilot buddy about this over coffee or beer, he told me that he had seen a young ramp-hand marshalling in a big plane (I won’t mention the type lest some local airline’s SMS go into spasms over this anecdote) – a turboprop, 50 passengers or so – with his orange light-stick wand in one hand and his beloved phone in the other, his head down and his busy thumb scrolling the screen while the wingtip arced above his head. I don`t know whether the young lad knows how close his phone came to being broken over my friend`s knee that morning, but it was very, very close.
So is this my fate? Our collective fate? Little by little to have these other somewhat mind-like hunks of chips and circuits become a parallel universe to accompany us through our days (and nights)? Will I live with two minds? Can I? Do I want to?
Saw a note on the chalkboard at Boston Pizza in Fort Nelson one night a year or so ago. “NO WI-FI!” it proclaimed in bright blue chalk, “RELAX! TALK TO PEOPLE! DRINK! PRETEND IT’S 1994 – LIVE!”
I’ve tried that “Live!” both ways as I’ve mulled over that message. Both as an imperative and as an adjective. I like it either way.
I was in the electronics store in Yellowknife the other day, to buy a nifty little padded case for my nifty little digital camera. Filling one entire wall were six or seven flat-screen teevees, all state-of-the-art, all filled with absolutely stunning aerial images of the Grand Canyon, shot from a helicopter – swooping, zooming, panning. With that on the wall of the living room, and hey – snacks and a thermostat and a remote control – how oh how could real life, with heat and dust and sunburn, ever possibly match up? Ah hah, I thought – so this is “Eco-Porn!” And of course it is – the parallel is plain. And where will it lead people’s perceptions of the real wilderness, real outdoor life with bugs and headwinds and at any given moment (as in 99.999% of given moments!) no chorus of wolves howling in the distance? The high-definition image on the living room wall will always be so vivid, the soundtrack just right and the colors so rich, and then of course we could always just flip over to check messages, right on the same screen… And reality would be, well, kind of a let-down.
I could go on. Parks Canada is now putting wi-fi into some of our National Parks. Reason stated? People want it, they want to be connected, and this will be welcomed. Without it, people will decide to stay home.
I know, I know. I’m not sure what I am getting at, either. Only that I am concerned about this duality. And by the realization that I am not immune to it, rail against it as I might. I don’t have any answers here, only questions. Maybe most people can handle all this, and it is only I that cannot. If so maybe I should just relax. In North of Reliance oh so many years ago, I wrote: “Where is that fine line I came to tread, deftly balanced at the interface of two worlds?” At that time, immersed here and more or less cut off, I was more concerned about going over the other edge. Now I wonder if I can even see that edge from here anymore.
Wendell Berry admonishes us in his wonderful poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”:
As soon as the generals and the politicos / can predict the motions of your mind, / lose it.
Will I lose one of my minds? Will we all? Which one will we lose, or lose our direct, undivided full-on attention to? Afraid of what I think the answer might be, here I sit, typing. A soft “ping” tells me some message or another has just come in. Might need to check that. Oh and maybe I should scroll over and click and check the Graphic Area Forecast and the winds aloft. Be right back.
Post script: Another question that troubles and baffles me, along these same lines, is this: given the amount of time each day that is spent on these new ways of being, living for hours in the realm of this parallel mind so to speak, and given that there are still just 24 hours in every day, 365 and a quarter days in each trip around the sun, what has this enormous new time-allotment displaced from our lives? If the answer is “We watch less re-runs of Three’s Company” then maybe we are on to something good here. But if the answer is “I talk to my family less and I don’t walk in the evenings anymore, and I can’t remember the last time I just stood and watched the moon go down,” then, well, Houston We Have a Problem, Over.
So long. And Happy Spring, wherever this finds you. “Comments” still “closed” – Sorry, I can’t seem to handle that online medium with any measure of aplomb, but I am still at firstname.lastname@example.org (At least for a time. The time being.)