On the Slipping of Metaphors

“…clenched tight as a dogwood bud in January.” — Cold Mountain

On January sixth it was seventy degrees in Boston. Deluded birds took up mating songs. In Jamaica Plain a cherry tree bloomed, in Medfield a honeysuckle. I drove about with the windows rolled down and went for a walk in the woods without a coat. I felt torn between a feeling of despair, of insurmountable loss, and one of defiant pleasure. Seventy-degree days in January in New England tend to put one in mind of doomsday. But it was hard not to notice, as clouds broke over mountains and fragments of rainbows appeared, how beautiful the world remained.

On the evening of February second, the first even remotely significant snow of the year fell in Sunderland. Fluff built up on the branches of fir trees. The air was filled with a quiet whisper and a subtle scent like cotton, and vast open fields felt small and comforting and familiar. People drove unnecessarily slow. I wore my Paddington Bear coat with the hood up and paused to shake off the snowflakes when I went indoors. The next morning there were footprints everywhere and the sidewalks were clear. The wind had knocked all the snow from the branches. No more than three inches had fallen.

People growing up in New England in coming years, as the world gets warmer, won’t really notice the change. They’ll think the nostalgia of the older generation for snowball fights and sledding to be quaint, but overly emotional, even irrational. It will be warmer, after all. Less fabric will be required for coats. Towns will get by on smaller snow-clearing budgets. Ploughs will rust. Fewer traffic accidents will occur. Nobody will bother to put snow tires on anymore. Gardners will become more daring.

I’ll be one of those irrational older people, trying to convince kids that they’re missing something. Which isn’t to say I won’t get caught up in the change, won’t learn to enjoy the way things are. What I’ll miss most, though, what will give me away as belonging to the class of fuddy-duddies, will be the way I cling to the metaphors.

Perhaps a new class of fantasy will emerge. Cold-weather nostalgia. The endless Winter of the Wardrobe will switch sides, become a symbol of good and beauty. Images like rosy cheeks, personifications like Jack Frost, becoming more and more inapt, will come more and more into vogue. The notion of a father building an igloo for his children in their front yard will evoke the mystical awe of knights and castles.

Maybe I ought to propose an anthology now. Get ahead of the game.


  1. Don’t worry Mike, the coming nuclear winter ought to balance out global warming just fine.

    Besides, maybe we’re just gullible and both possibilities are just conspiracy theories that we have swallowed head-to-tail.

    Then again, perhaps turning the term “conspiracy” into an epithet doesn’t dismiss the phenomenon as we might wish.

    Or… we could start looking at property over 400ft above sea level, and in South America:

    (due to the lack of non-verbal cues inherent in Internet text communication, I am instituting a qualitative rating system, so that my readers will know how to interpret the attitude of my communication. This communication’s rating is: amicable)

    (any thoughts on why the html tags I stuck in here for formatting disappeared every time I hit the Preview button?)

  2. Oh, I’m not too worried. There are places…wild places, since replaced with oblivious mansions…that I miss as much as certain people. But there are always going to be fascinating people yet to meet. Likewise with wildernesses. I’ve read a couple of post-global-warming SF pieces of late that attest to this.

    Besides, chances are if the world really goes to hell, I’m not likely to be there to see it.

    This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

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