Thursday, December 15, 2016 10:45 AM
This is one of those bitterly cold and gusty mornings that make one appreciate the genius of a house. A really strong wind can make me worry for the integrity of the walls—nature, when sufficiently excited, can make anything man-made seem as flimsy as cardboard. But while the walls continue to stand, a house is a wonder—to stand, safe and warm, and look out upon a world of windy winter, as if watching a movie, is a treat. Before the ubiquity of glass windows and insulation, furnaces and fridges—what an uncomfortable world it must have been.
In cold weather I often remember a snapshot of my teens—I was hitchhiking home from Boston in Winter. There was snow on the ground, there was fresh snow falling, the sun was setting, and I was standing in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from anyone I knew. I was hitchhiking on an on-ramp which no one was taking—basically standing in a snowstorm, underdressed to where even my teenage metabolism was losing the fight with entropy.
It was the first time I became fully aware of the importance of all the stuff in our lives—when a man stands in solitude, with empty hands, before Mother Nature—she licks her lips. I could catch a ride, or—I could freeze to death, covered by falling snow and unnoticed until spring. There was no diner nearby to duck into; I had no friends within walking distance to go visit and use their phone; I had no money and I had no plan. I learned that there are places that are easy to get to, but hard to leave.
I assume someone picked me up, since I am typing this today—but the memory of that experience doesn’t contain the happy, last-minute ending. My memory is of being eternally trapped in an empty winter landscape with no hope of survival. It was an iconic moment for me. One cannot fully appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature—until she casually tries to kill you.
The Fool card in the Tarot depicts a young man, much as I was then, walking along with his eyes on the stars and one foot over a precipice. The folly of youth, the lack of foresight, is so much a part of humanity that it finds representation in the Tarot—and no one knows how old the Tarot really is. If I were re-designing a modern version of the deck, I’d illustrate the Fool card with a drawing of a kid hitchhiking in a snowstorm.
But the moment was also a lesson. I plan my trips carefully now (not that I take any, really, not anymore). I keep extra stuff in my car (well, I don’t have my own car anymore). At sixty, I’ve learned to be very careful when leaving the house—but I also rarely leave the house—not by choice, that’s just the way things go—but still, it’s ironic. Kinda.