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Change of Seasons

Change of Seasons: Poetry and Curling

John Moe

Marc Sanchez

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A curling stone on the ice
(Rob Byers)
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"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden

Is there a chill in the air yet, in your neck of the woods? Our nose hairs haven't frozen yet, but we're sure that treat is just around the corner.
Which can only mean one thing: winter! You still have a couple weeks until the official beginning (December 21st, to be exact) but here's a little primer for the season. Poet Linda Gregg starts us off. Although she's lived through cool, snowy days in Massachusetts, winter reminds her of her growing up on the west coast.


Linda Gregg: My homeland is northern California, West Marin County. They have four seasons, but only people with a lot of sensitivity would understand the difference. For instance, in West Marin, winter has green grass, and summer has blond. You know? There's no snow. And there's more water in the creeks. In the summer, there's less water in the creeks. I think for somebody who lived in true winter, it's not in high contrast the way a northern world would be, with snow and very short nights. It's a little softer. My father owned about a thousand acres in West Marin, and I used to walk in this valley a lot. I'd walk along the creek all the way up through the valley. And on the way back, I'd walk down the middle of the valley, where it was more open to the sky. There was a time in winter in which all the salmon would spawn. And because I walked there all the time, there would just be a day in winter in which all of the sudden there were a million salmon, just bruised and dying and rushing up the creeks that were now full of water because it was winter. For you people in the far north, this won't seem very wintry for you. But for us in that homeland, this was winter.


Death Looks Down

Death looks down on the salmon.
A male and female in two pools, one above
the other. The female turns back along the path
of water to the male, does not touch him,
and returns to the place she had been.

I know what death will do. Their bodies already
are sour and ragged. Blood has risen
to the surface under the scales. One side
of his jaw is unhinged. Death will pick them up.
Put them under his coat against his skin
and belt them there. Will walk away
up the path through the bay trees.
Through the dry grass of California to where
the mountain begins. Where a few deer
almost the color of the hills will look up
until he is under the trees again and the road ends
and there is a gate. He will climb over that
with his treasure. It
will be dark by then.

But for now he does nothing. He does not disturb
the silence at all. Nor the occasional sound
of leaves, of ferns touching, of grass or stream.
For now he looks down at the salmon large and whole
motionless days and nights in the cold water.
Lying still, always facing the constant motion.


(Copyright 2008 by Linda Gregg. Reprinted from All Of It Singing: New and Selected Poems with permission from Graywolf Press, St. Paul, MN.)


Poetry's an indoor sport, good for the cold winter season. But what if you want to get a little more active, and stay indoors? You could always try throwing rocks. You know, curling. It's kind of like shuffle board on ice. We met up with Jim "Dex" Dexter, of the St. Paul Curling club. He was kind enough to talk rocks and give us a few pointers.


John Moe: Well Dex, somehow I've made it this far in life without ever having curled. I want to learn how to throw a stone, and I want to learn how to...

Dex: ...Sweep. Basically, there's a captain, or "skip," at the far end that "reads" the ice, which doesn't make much sense. The ice will curl and react differently in different spots on the sheet of ice.

Moe: So the "skip" down at the end is...

Dex: ...Dictating the game. There's actually a thin vapor that we leave on top of the ice. As you can see, the ice has an orange peel effect on it called, "pebbling."

Moe: It's not one, smooth sheet.

Dex: You couldn't throw a rock down from one end to the other - we've tried it - without the pebble. It's what gets the rock off the ice. There's literally thousands of little pebbles, and we re-pebble every game. The rocks actually ride on that pebble. We gotta find you guys a broom.

Moe: All right.

Dex: We're going to have you guys throw it, because that's the best way to figure out what's going on in this goofy game.

Moe: Are we going to throw first, and then sweep?

Dex: Yes sir.

Moe: OK. Let's start with the throwing.

Dex: Right-handers put their right foot in the left "hack."

Moe: It's like track and field. It's like I'm going to start running.

Dex: Exactly. Get down like a catcher - in the catcher's position - like you're going to catch a baseball. Sit all the way down. Relax. Get comfortable. At your age, I see you get down real easy.

Moe: Oh yeah.

Dex: We're going to use this broom for balance. You kind of want a feeling of a tripod on a camera. And you elevate your hips, bring it back like this, bring this foot with it, start the right foot, and throw it off. You have to throw one, so we can go from there. It's such a strange motion.

(curling noise)

On good ice - that may go too far already - but, on good ice that would definitely be too heavy, which means it's traveling too far.

Moe: Don't kill my joy here Dex. I almost put the rock in the house.

Dex: I was just going to say, "what are you doing tonight at 5:00? We need a sub. You're in."

Moe: Should we practice sweeping?

Dex: I'll teach you some sweeping. It's a unique thing.

Moe: That broom has no bristles upon it!

Dex: No, they used to make them with bristles. They used to actually do it with an old fashioned - it looked like a garage broom. So the sweeping's evolved, like the game, and the precision of the rocks. The harder and faster you can sweep right in front of the stone, the more effective you are.

Moe: And that will speed up the stone?

Dex: No, it doesn't speed it up. Less friction means it will travel further.

Moe: It will travel further. That's what I meant to say.

Dex: You're a rookie, we'll forgive you.

Moe: I'm just now learning to put the rock in the house.

Dex: We can give you terminology: "a little chip and lie," or "hit and roll" or if you want to "come down under" or "make a double" or "triple" or whatever. We can throw out a whole bunch of terms, and I can sound real smart. But, you'd have no idea what I'm saying.

Moe: You could be making up terms for all I know.

Dex: But, the problem is, I'm not. When they sweep, the "skip" will normally yell, "Hurry, hurry. Hard, hard. Sweep, sweep." Anything like that.

Moe: If I'm right-handed, should I hold it like that?

Dex: That's right. Hold this arm in and kind of move the broom. It's real easy to do when you're standing still. I'll just fire this down here. You start moving, then you sweep it.

(curling noise)

This is about how fast the rock would go.

(sweeping noise)

C'mon, hurry! Hard! C'mon, hurry! That's good.

Moe: Oh, I hit the rock. I'm a natural aren't I?

Dex: So far you look like a natural. Like I said, I do need a sub at 5:00.

Moe: I gotta say, Dex, I thought the sweeping would be easier than the throwing.

Dex: It's not.

Moe: No. It's exhausting.

Dex: It really is. Now, I've been lucky enough to go out to Colorado Springs and the Olympic training center. One of the amazing things they found out about sweeping is that it's the fastest instant heart rate of any winter sport. Now to think that you have to be in shape like a downhill skier or a hockey player or a skater is not true. But it is a good cardiovascular [workout]. That's kind of why they call it a "lifetime sport." It does keep you active.

Moe: I think I was born to sweep.

Dex: Well, you do look like a natural. I'll give you credit for that.

Moe: Can you call me "Sweepy?" If I come down to the club, will everyone call me Sweepy?

Dex: That or "Sleepy." I'm not sure. One or the other. Way to go, Sweepy!

Moe: Yeah!

More stories from our Change of Seasons series


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