We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end.
Snow drifts from an easy sky, east to west, and crackles underfoot, attesting to the lower than usual temperatures for this time of year. They shimmer diamond-like, the flakes, sparkly and fine in the glow of the rural yard light atop a telephone pole.
Snow is not unusual for Iowa, and drift not a surprise, though it in no way approximates the over fifty-feet a year they commonly get in Mt. Rainer, Washington or the over forty-five feet a year in Alta, Utah. Records tell us that way back in 1888, an unexpected Nor’easter dumped so much snow along the northeastern seaboard in four days, and the winds were so strong, that houses lay buried under forty and fifty foot drifts, and two hundred ships were lost at sea. Buffalo, New York’s, recent storms will also go down in history as drift, and excess, and for some, an end.
In Oregon’s Crater Lake there floats an old hemlock stump thirty feet long, adrift these past hundred years or so, blown about and across six wide miles of water, around and around and around, miles a day, hundreds of miles a year. Day after day, the “Old Man of the Lake” rides along, pushed and drawn like a bobber on a fishing line. He’s an institution; he drifts, and fisherfolk pass on news of his whereabouts when they see him.
One winter/spring in 2008 – Drifting snow, driving rain, and yet more rain and melting snow, two seasons long, a winter, a spring. This is a pattern for disaster, for a feared 500-year flood, for the buying of lifejackets and the building of arks. We were frantic then in central-eastern Iowa, in this place where nothing much happens beyond the harvesting of crops, and long drives on scenic highways. The rebuilding continues even now, and the casual observer can still spot high water marks, dirt drift, on sides of buildings in that ten square mile area of past-deluge.
Some say a great flood came and covered the earth millennia ago, and millions turned into tidewrack, fresh debris, washed out and along with every other living thing on this planet. Numerous people groups embrace such a myth, an earth-wide flood. This may explain a few things, but again, it may be a legend based on some form of truth, as most legends go. Let the believer believe and the skeptic question, for there are no rules when it comes to rains and floods, doubts and faith; there is only drift.
Forward six years to a Friday in October – A heavy fog drags its net; it’s sky drift, gloom-laden, gray. The soft on and off rain continues from yesterday but this afternoon should bring clearer skies and light. We can but hope. At 12:30, there is evidence of neither.
But what is fog but condensed rain, fallen onto drier air and cooled, like dry ice being exposed to warmer matter—the minus 109 degrees of dry ice meeting heat—fog rolls then, billows up, startles out at such confluence.
The fog is a pillow to my face, a cataracting of my eyes. It hangs and weeps, a great depressive tyrant, a miasma of woe, someone’s brother, father, mother. There is no sun, there is no lightness. Dear Nebula of Nothingness, I rest in peace, and wait.
Statistically, weekends (including Fridays) are the rainiest of the week. It’s speculated that a possible cause is the pollution generated the rest of the week, according to an article in Nature journal. In light of such, the wise will plan their outdoor games for the other four days, and lug along umbrellas on Sunday.
A few weeks later – Soon after dark, the storms began, the late autumn weeping of a starless night with a waxing gibbous moon adrift. Two weeks more and the snows will come. I will have promises to keep and miles to walk, traversing between our farmhouse near and the barn not so near, through snowy pastures, near snowy woods. I will consider the cold on those days, and mishap, and my German great aunt who went out to feed her rabbits one snowy winter day years ago near Lichtenau, slipped on ice, and lay there until drifting into an unending sleep. There was no one to hear her cries, no cell phone in her pocket. I will think of my Cherokee great grandmother who walked the Trail of Tears, settled in southern Missouri, and birthed a brood of six, walked to the creek to wash clothes during every season, each nature’s fury no matter what it held, and died young. I will feel something of them in my bones, and remember, and watch my step, hope for time enough.
Antarctica is considered a desert even though it’s covered with ice over a mile thick. It’s dry there, rains little. With average yearly temps at minus 50F, the bulk of the ice won’t thaw anytime soon, but then there’s global warming and the too-quick melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Winds are the worst there, and the sea surrounding the continent contains the Circumpolar Current, also the worst on earth. Ebb and flow, and ice, and survival for the few who attempt the Ernest Shackleton type expeditions. Drift along, drift along, drift along home.
Life itself is drift, ship to island and back again, transference from one point to another, and in the flash of a vision, change. There is no telling here, no prophecy or stones carved with words, just hasty plans and happenstance, but mostly current and forks in the river, rapids and deep, oceans of float, skies of guess. Grab a snow shovel, a canoe, and wait again.
We drifted across the Atlantic Ocean from Germany in the late ‘50’s. Once here, we went from Army base to Army base for several years. Mother left much behind in the transition, her family and culture; we still ask her questions about “those days.” Maybe she misses it, I’m not sure. She never complains.
Since marrying, I’ve drifted too, from Iowa to Wisconsin to Missouri then back to Iowa again, adding little pieces of history to country houses and city houses and apartments, and taking a cache of memories to draw from in the years ahead, in the drift.
Somewhere and everywhere at once, a piece of wood, or many, careen along an ambling current or a gushing current or down a waterfall. Somewhere and everywhere at once, people move or are displaced or simply go where the future looks most promising. But the rains come there too, and snow, the Katrinas and the Old Men of the Sea. And always there is drift, the predictable and the unpredictable, the scheduled and the random.
As for me, I sit inside my cozy rural home, a black wolf for my laptop screensaver and a barn full of animals far enough away but no so very far after all. And I feel adventurous in my comfortable course, in my hiking trails and modest Midwestern blizzards. Maybe it’s delusion, or simply the human desire to gamble, to experience fresh ventures and memorable risk in a lifetime fraught with such, that thrills me in this process of life called drift.
Chila Woychik writes, edits, and hikes in Iowa. Her work appears in The Mayo Review, The Milo Review, Prick of the Spindle, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. She is currently on a quest to uncover the metaphorical bones of her German and Cherokee forebears.