Snow graphemes, scribed by plants

Fallen leaves and fruits etch the snow when caught by the wind, leaving inscrutable messages. Tree roots do the same as they carve up through asphalt. The last few weeks have provided ample opportunity to read these signs.

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These snow scribblings bring to mind David Hinton’s description of the work of the Chinese poet Summit-Gate (峰門). Summit-Gate would gather particularly beautiful autumn leaves and carefully lay them in book-scroll boxes. These boxes were her library. When snows came, she took the leaves to her poetry shelter and released them one by one, watching their wind-blown botanical calligraphy on the snow. She could read the start of every poem but, by choice, the conclusions eluded her.

There is more to her story, all told in David’s excellent book, Hunger Mountain, a meditation on landscape, mind, and literature.

So in these snowy days, we can learn from Summit-Gate and keep our eyes on the surface to see what legumes, samaras, and cast-off leaves might be saying. Ideograms are also being continually made and erased on other surfaces: beaches, dusty roadsides, perhaps even the ooze on a scummy lake. This is “tracking” of a different sort.

14 thoughts on “Snow graphemes, scribed by plants

  1. Jim Markowich

    Urban snow graphemes are more heavy-handed. They are created by snow clumps that fall from tree branches, rather than by leaves being blown along. And they seem less like delicate script than emphatic punctuation!

  2. Terry Golson

    I had a tracking teacher who successfully fooled most of the winter tracking workshop I attended by asking “what animal made these tracks?” – they were marks left by blown leaves.Then, he fooled us again when we came across marks made by bird wings because we all thought they were the snow graphemes.

  3. Jeff Schwaner

    Hinton’s translations of T’ang and Sung dynasty poets are marvelous. I’ve been reading his anthology “Classical Chinese Poetry” for the last few months. Snow graphemes, in their apparent aimlessness and as things which barely scratch the surface, seem like perfect stand-ins for what a great translation (especially one composed over a thousand years later) must do–not presuming much, just scratch the surface, and let the viewer/reader absorb that brief connection between two utterly transient materials.

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Beautiful thought: translation as delicate, humble reading of impressions from an ephemeral surface. I will add Hinton’s anthology to my reading list. Thank you for the recommendation. I really enjoyed his Hunger Mountain.

  4. Ruth Clark

    Not to mention the tracks of the family cat, daintily crossing new fallen- snow, not wanting to get his paws wet.

  5. Pingback: Crash, hop. Inscriptions on flakes. | Ramble

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