Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Weathering Winter

As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Weathering Winter: A Gardener's Daybook by Carl H. Klaus.

This is a memoir about the reflections on the weather and gardening written in an epistolary style, daily from January 1 to March 15. The thrust of the musings are about the effect of wintry weather on the author and on the anticipation of and preparation for spring gardening. So if repetitive flights of fancy over snow and gardening catalogs are not your thing, I'd recommend skipping this small hardcover.

The book would've done better as a long narrative nonfiction piece with a few days as an illustrative sample, rather than the long-winded 189 pages covering two and a half months. Having said that, the writing is gorgeous in a few places: expansive, imaginative, nuanced, and detailed.

"'Can you believe it? Wednesday I was freezing in Ames and today I'm watching a kite in the park.' Watching that kite, I could almost feel the tug of it in my hand, jumping and soaring high on the updrafts, swooping on the shifts of wind, as alive as a bluegill or bass, diving and turning on the end of a line."

You can see that kite. You can feel the wind winging the kite away. Lovely writing.

Here's another one:

"What they also didn't tell us was that during the [solar] eclipse everything around us, including ourselves, would seem to be risk, especially at noon, when the light turned brassy, then dark, like gray glass, like black light, like darkness visible, and the breeze went dead, and the air turned chill, and all the birds fell silent."

Can you see that eclipse shading in and everything going still? Lovely!

Overall, the prose is spare and yet is able to convey the author's rollercoaster of glee and despair over too much or not enough snow, too cold or too warm temperatures, those unending garden planting catalogs thudding down on his doorstep, whether he's seeded his pots too early or too late and when are they going to be ready to be transplanted outdoors, and why certain birds are showing up and others aren't at his bird feeders.

In a memoir, I look for daily musings that act as jumping off points to writing about specific benchmark moments in the author's life and/or important external events that inform on the author's life. There was almost none of that in book. It truly was a day-to-day reporting on the weather and the state of his gardening plans.

There was only one significant external event that was brought in from to time to time and that was the mention of the two named people (and others) from the Kobe earthquake disaster of 1995. However, the way the references to the event and the people were randomly sprinkled into sporadic entries, a propos nothing, it felt more like a "introduce leitmotif here" manipulation.