It is the fourth day of a cloud inversion in Jackson Hole, and the fourth day of wonder for me. Quite simply, an inversion happens when cold, dense air is trapped within a valley like ours and warmer, clear air rises to the top. From above, perched on mountain vantage point, the whole valley is a sea of clouds. From below, where I am, it feels like a great hand has cupped itself over the known world, cocooning us in low cloud that obscures all distances and hangs down almost to the point of impermeable fog.
This is a bell jar if there ever was one, and its stillness has produced another remarkable effect: daylong hoarfrost. Usually only glimpsed in the early morning and then dispersed by sunshine, hoarfrost coats twigs, shrubs, and trees in delicate, vaporized water crystals: precise, uniform, eerie. The last four days have dawned white, full of whitened, unmoving trees blending almost completely with fields of equally still snow. All has remain hushed, bewitched almost.
The imaginative possibilities of what this word inversion might mean have been haunting me since. I’m drawn to the imagery of an upended world, where sky’s kingdom has lowered, taking possession of the world’s edges and rendering an understanding much like an ancient cartographer’s chart of the world—a curling edge where one can tip off. I’m drawn to the idea of topsy-turvy, of life lived backwards and out of sync: a sky/earth flip; a mouth/heart schism. Swimming upwards could be swimming downwards.
And when will we knock our heads upon the lid of it all? That could be the question, I suspect. Just as when luxuriating in happiness: do our toes sense the scratch of the bottom? There is always a bottom or a top; the direction is merely symbolic.
At the beginning, I turned straight to lyric and obtuse water imagery.
An inversion: tip the world over; trap us in the softly padded liminal of the dream shore—space disappearing; the possibility of walking into mystery.
It’s a fugue state, and I feel like I should hush myself. My heart hushes, too, not beating in a sharp jaunt, but tipping gently back and forth like a boat knocked by the sea.
The edges of the world blur and contract, drawing us to the center, the color of chaff, the color of no-color.
Tender-shooted stalks of crystal have taken hostage our trees. Mirage of mirrors, of whiteness: things are both at their clearest and indistinct.
This world: replace. That world: swim in. Drift in. Be.
I will be quiet within it, I swear. I will never leave it, I swear. Stay, stay, is my incantation. It’s written in the italics of my breath, made by the shape of my fingers in the cold. My lashes bid it: we are all one part.
Just so, the world reminds: what it greens, it strips. What it endows, it undermines.
Living under the convex bubble, I will flip my intentions at will, chancing where I never could. Take not a thing for granted; forget what you can.
I’m told, above the clouds, everyone does things just the same. I’m told, above the clouds, that we are a memory, like busts rimed by the sea, found smooth-eyed in the deep.
And so on.
Now that I’ve had four days under the inversion, and the skies are beginning to crack and clear, pushed by the ledge of the mountains, I am mourning its loss. Will anything feel so silent, so bell-dumb again? Will the world once more be upended?
Well, yes. It is likely to be so. How multifarious the earth is; how completely delighting in surprise. Once, I rhapsodized about snowy spaces and their details, identifying what I called the thrum, which is nothing more nor less than the breath of all things, the vibration that the silence makes…or call it the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Whatever it is, it is the great generator: turning us on our axis and producing the visible world and also the invisible trickles and flubs and gurgles that propel what’s visible. To continue the artificial imagery of hand-lettered cartography—it’s a bit like a great balloon contraption, powered by whistles and snorts of steam that are almost beyond our ken, but not quite.
Perhaps that’s what I’m reaching for: this tangible artificiality that brings all closer and more uniform in aesthetic and purpose. That’s the inversion at work, and its act of closing in, cupping and miniaturizing the globe; transforming all to curio.
Yesterday, while out skiing, my friend bade us stop several times and just listen to the silence. I heard the rushing of all of this. There was the literal crush of a creek, tumbling under ice, and over that, an arching of unbroken silence—the imagined sound of the hoarfrost crinkling or snow sweeping. But really it was just silence.
How good to find it always there: not artificial in the least, enclosing us all.
Today, I’ll walk into the distances that seemed obscured by cloud only days before. I whisper my thanks to the short memory of the imagination; I bless days that engage my fumbling, dreamy love for metaphor, even when very real things conspire to bring us to sadness beyond the edges of the known world.