Gary Snyder by firelight: a moment

I was awake in the night and came down to put more logs on the fire. It was snowing outside, the last hurrah of the cold snap we’ve had for the past week. I know that cold is relative. When I talk to my sons in Ottawa and Edmonton, I realize that minus 8 celsius is actually pretty mild. But here, on this coast, it felt cold. We don’t have down parkas or felt boots. But we do have an airtight woodstove and its heat is very welcome. It doesn’t burn through the night though and at 3, after putting logs on the orange coals, I sat in the rocking chair by the hearth to wait til the logs caught and burned well before partly closing the damper.

The snowflakes were huge and soft as they fell to the deck off the kitchen. There was smudgy moonlight and the night felt big and mysterious. There ought to be a poem for this moment, I thought — the fire, the weather, the dark night. But I didn’t want to turn on a light to find a book.

And now, at my desk, watching the snow melt in the inevitable rain, I know the poem. “Milton by Firelight”, from Gary Snyder’s Riprap & Cold Mountain Poems:

No paradise, no fall,

Only the weathering land

The wheeling sky,

Man, with his Satan

Scouring the chaos of the mind.

Oh Hell!

Fire down

Too dark to read, miles from a road…

And here’s the poem written out on the patio this morning:


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