Tag Archives: Snow

After the snow

The ice – cornered – clings,
The sun above seeks it out.
The earth returns.

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‘All together in a sudden strangeness’

NE Alberta Street. December 2016

NE Alberta Street. December 2016

Portland is many things but it’s not quiet. At least it’s not in the area of north Portland where we live.

Traffic is fairly steady in the streets around our end of N Mississippi Avenue, where the nearby I-5 provides a fairly constant background hum in the daytime hours. It’s not intrusive, just an ever-present feature.

It’s also one you don’t notice until it’s gone. Which is what happened over the past 48 hours, as a winter snowstorm hit the Rose City.

And so, confronted last night by sub-zero temperatures, slick streets and frozen pavements, I did the first, if slightly reckless, thing that came to mind: I stepped out for a five-mile walk.

What struck me was the silence.

Earlier that day I had read a Guardian article on the theme of walking through an urban area at night. One of the most common observations of those who undertook such outings was the lack of noise, the absence of traffic, other pedestrians, construction activity.

Walking down N Alberta Street now, there was no evening rush. MLK was quiet – the motorists who had ventured out were sticking to a crawl as they navigated frozen, untreated roads. There were few pedestrians on the slippy pavements, and the cafes and bars of the Alberta Arts District were forlornly empty.

And so I walked. For miles (more than five, to be exact), across snowy pavements and intersections, meeting only the occasional dog-walker or stubborn pedestrian. When I did, as Pablo Neruda wrote, we were all together “in a sudden strangeness”.

This was a different Portland, one I hadn’t seen and one which appears only very occasionally. It showed me a different city, the physical structures and thoroughfares standing apart, freed from the constant, sometimes choking, activity that passes through and around them.

One of the contributors to the Guardian feature wrote that, at night when the streets are deserted, “the empty city feels like it’s yours…you feel outside the world”. So it was for me, for one night at least, in snow-struck Portland.

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Snowmaggedon falling faintly and faintly falling

Donal McCann as Gabriel Conroy in "The Dead" (1987)

Donal McCann as Gabriel Conroy in “The Dead” (1987)

Snow was general all over Portland this week. It was falling softly upon the Japanese Gardens and, further westwards, softly falling on the dark Willamette waves.

Snowstorms don’t happen very often in this part of the world. Mercifully so, as the city slides to a halt when they sweep in. Pavements are ice rinks, roads lie untreated, movement is all but impossible. It’s almost as bad as the notorious Irish ‘Big Freeze‘.

That country came to mind this morning as I lay in bed, shivering and reading “The Dead”, the short story which ends James Joyce’s’ “Dubliners”.

Its famous closing lines depict snow falling on Dublin and, as Gabriel Conroy experiences his epiphany, across the midlands to the western seaboard. The precipitation was, Richard Ellmann believed, a metaphor for human mutuality, the experience of life and of death that we all share.

Joyce’s words, like the quiet, empty streets of Portland’s ‘snowmageddon‘, are a calming break from the general run of things. And worth reading, before the Christmas rush descends.

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Snow in North Portland. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Snow in North Portland. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

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The (dropped) call of the wild

Croagh Patrick from Murrisk (on a smartphone), February 2014.

Croagh Patrick from Murrisk (on a smartphone), February 2014.

CONTACT with nature is good for you?

After two months of Atlantic storms most Irish people would disagree. Nature, by way of gales and floods, has well and truly come to us.

Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?

Richard Louv thinks so. Sheltering indoors from last week’s tempests I came across an article in which he proposes ten reasons why we need more contact with the natural world.

Most of the ten are less than mind-blowing (‘nature brings our senses alive’), but a couple are interesting (‘we suffer when we withdraw from nature’).

His overall message is straightforward: ignore the gales (and whatever else) and get out there.

Just as well. The following day we planned to drive 280km across the country to Westport, facing a forecast of storm-forced winds, sleet and snow.

Snow, north Roscommon. Pic: Clare Kleinedler

Snow, north Roscommon.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

But after a month spent in the city, and much of that indoors, at home or in the office, a windswept trip West was mentally necessary – whatever the weather.

Driving across the Midlands, washed out and browny bleak, Louv’s main point recurred to me: the more hi-tech our lives become the more nature we need.

Conveniently the thought resurfaced as our mobile phone coverage began to dip in and out across the flatlands of north Roscommon.

By the time we reached Co Mayo thoughts of nature took a backseat to the more immediate task of driving through it, as visibility dropped and the journey was reduced to a 60kph crawl.

Far from stressful (though AMII might have disagreed) the drive was oddly relaxing. Confronted with a wall of white and driving over freezing sleet there was nothing to do but focus on the road, or what could be seen of it, and keep going.

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THE snow made an impression on the landscape too.

The following dawn we awoke to an ominous Croagh Patrick, its peak above Westport clouded in grey.

As the morning drew on, and the skies cleared, revealing an ice-covered mountain top.

After coffee in Westport we drove to Murrisk, at the foot of the mountain. We didn’t plan to climb it this time, but couldn’t resist driving a couple of miles out for a closer peak.

A previous visit to Croagh Patrick, November 2010.

A previous visit to Croagh Patrick, November 2010.

Some 760 metres above lay the summit, and we could just make out the shape of the church on it. Having climbed The Reek a number of times I’d never seen it so clear, in such pristine northerly air.

I could, of course, have witnessed the same vista without leaving my sitting room in Dublin, sifting through innumerable online photos of the mountain. But how could that compare?

A month of laptop browsing was worth just a second stood underneath the real thing.

Here was just path, wind, slope and scree, with snow on top. The full, analogue majesty of the outdoors;  our senses ignited, our souls replenished by contact with nature, and not a smart phone in sight.

They sat in our pockets, untouched.

Untouched, that was, until we needed to snap the scene.

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