- Heart of the winter, here in the heart of Long Island’s North Shore. Walking here good for the heart, and the end of this week is the festival of hearts. Take heart, the end of the cold is near.
- One reason to study another language is to learn about my own. Words have multiple definitions, and varying connotations depending on context. Less frequently recognized, words have obscure cultural associations, such as Valentine’s day. Almost never noticed, each of us carries our own unique entanglements associated with words we use, perhaps, for example, of a loved one who died from a heart attack. Some words carry more freight than others, and one such is “heart.”
“A heart once lost is never found”
Meaningless, yet seems profound.
“Be still my heart” a silly phrase
Remains in use, at least in plays
Language poorly mirrors more
One dimension, never four
Yet magically, with hiss and tone
Can make us feel much less alone.
- For the last few years this particular time of February has involved one heartless snowstorm after another, with a few days in between. The only difference year to year is how low the temperature between, and how much snow melts. Once again, another all-day snowfall reminds us that Long Island is the southern boundary of New England.
- Bundled well, I heartily brave the freezing wind, regardless of the new-fangled (from my perspective) wimpy “wind-chill factor.” In my day, by golly, we took the temperatures raw! I experience a certain amount of fun feeling the freeze and enjoying the break of waves at high tide as snow quiets the world except for wind and the mournful, muffled, fog horn at the inlet. For a few minutes, anyway.
“Doing anything special for Valentine’s Day?” I ask Max as we check out of Southdown Market.
“Brenda wants to eat out, of course,” he grimaces. “So we’ll go have spaghetti somewhere with wine.”
“But that’s wonderful!” I exclaim mockingly. “With whoopee to follow no doubt.”
“Ah, those were the days,” he smiles.
“They say the earlier memories come back as we get older,” I note. “For some reason, I’ve been remembering elementary school, valentines, back before political correctness.”
“I’m thinking, but what do you mean ….’
“Oh, you know, we’d all get those cheesy valentines to punch out of perforated cardboard booklets with trite bland greetings and some kind of cheesy animals or cupids or hearts with arrows through them. Used to do it in class, too, sometimes. Good for motor skills, I guess.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember now. Seems a century ago in spirit as well as years. I wonder what they do now? Hearts with arrows seem a little too violent for the public school zeitgeist.”
“No idea. Do you really care?”
“Nah,” he checks out and heads towards the door. “I’ve got enough on the plate just handling my spaghetti.”
- After a few doses of snow come the shots of cold. It’s been a warm winter, even to the point of mostly melting all the white stuff before the next batch arrives. Nature is apparently done fooling around, and temperatures may get below zero for a few days. The harbor has yet to develop even a skim of ice, so perhaps this will do the trick.
- Ice coming off gutters always fascinates me, with icicles above dripping onto clear stalactites and stalagmites below. Sparkles beautifully in the sun, constantly changing shape. I have been warned that they should be knocked down, lest they damage the drainage system, but it’s held up for over 60 years with no problem so I feel little urgency to go out with a broom. What I do instead is hypnotically gaze at the spectacle each day, regarding the abstract sculpture as a temporary wonder restricted to this season alone.
- Poetry and literature can quickly convince us how hard it is to communicate everything. The main thoughts, of course, come through even in translation. But connotations, even if exquisitely captured by the writer, often fail to make it through to a casual reader, and almost never survive translation.
- A word like heart, in any language or use, defines mostly one or two things. That carries the logic _ anyone knows what is meant by a stopped heart, or even a heart-stopping experience. Logic easily survives translation, and is grasped by just about anyone.
- Connotations are more difficult. In our culture heart is associated with love, honor, even bravery. For some, it carries tinges of religious rapture. And all the historic references _ general and personal _ are associated with those connotations: chocolate candy for valentine’s day, purple hearts for military wounds, bumper stickers praising certain destinations. These cannot carry through translation _ they often cannot make it from one generation to another.
- And then, there are the noises itself, crucial to the final impact of the phrasing. Rhymes are the most obvious _ heart, art, fart. But there are more subtle entanglements _ heart sounds a little like hard or hurt. Heart has the same beat as dirt.
- Those artists who carry language to the fringes of comprehensibility _ like Joyce or Pound _ are often hailed as geniuses. But the fringes of comprehensibility usually contain the least core logic, and are not only difficult to read for contemporaries, but quickly lose all possibility of being understood except by those devoting lifetimes to doing so.
- On the other hand, purely logical writing is deadly. It’s what lawyers specialize in. Not that a reference to lawyers is particularly relevant here, since very few of them have hearts of any kind.
- “Lowest temperatures in decades” due here for the next few days. Just to prove it is actually the heart of winter. Sometimes it seems that weather forecasters must take college courses in “Hysteria 101” and “Panic 203.” There seems to be no normal situation any more, always drought or flood or freeze or deadly heat. Tide rises and falls normally anyway, creating these little ice castles as it goes.
- A romantic would claim that bitter cold and wind on valentines day should lead to more happy snuggling with loved ones. A cynic would say that cabin fever may result in domestic mayhem. As far as I can tell, however, it actually makes no difference to anyone at all. Schedules are set and our insulated culture lets us pursue them unaffected by almost any meteorology that happens along.