Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Winter Gardening

Friday, February 3

On an overcast winter day, there's also nothing quite like walking the ice-crusted, gravelly, asphalt alley that begins across the street from our house and ends on campus overlooking the river. The backyards look like February. Large patches of discolored grass, surrounded by dwindling sweeps of crusted snow. A rotary lawn mower sitting out the winter by the side of a garage. Diagonally across from the mower, a wire-enclosed compost heap, filled with pink grapefruit halves. A winterful of grapefruit. Then a fenced-in border collie, looking for action. A winterful of boredom. Then a rusting red wheelbarrow, wintering over on its side, in the middle of a backyard. Then the school playground, edged with dirt-covered snow. Snirt, as the locals call it. Snirt-covered ice lining the curbs. Heaps of snirt sitting around, like blackened permafrost. Detritus of winter. Further down, a bright green Christmas tree on its side, directly across from several transparent garbage bags, filled with dark brown oak leaves. A yellow broom leaning against a green doorway. A blue plastic bag dangling from the side of a black plastic wastebasket. And finally, just as I'm approaching the dorms, a young coed, her blond hair streaked with pink, red, and dark black strands, like the inside of an emperor tulip. Everything here just as it should be on an overcast February day.

Northing is as it should be in the Netherlands, except for the tulips and the financial markets, both of which are outside the flooding area. Two hundred fifty thousand people homeless, but the flower people are happy to report that "the flooding will have no influence on the prices of tulips and bulbs." A spokesman for the country's dike agency predicts that Parliament will approve seven hundred million dollars for reinforcement projects. And the Amsterdam financial markets report that "stocks of companies involved in dike building rose sharply" this week. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The story of Kobe has now moved on to the financial pages, where the opinion is that "the colossal damage inflicted by the quake may take the shine off this year's opening months. But thereafter the colossal cost of reconstruction—with estimates running up to $70 billion and higher—will give an additional boost to economic activities in Japan and other Asian countries."

Everything, after all, running true to course on an overcast February day.

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