Do the Polar Vortex with Me


The term ‘polar vortex’ sounds like it should be the name of a dance. What it refers to is a spinning low pressure system that keeps the severe cold sequestered towards the North pole. More frequently, in recent years, the vortex has become unstable and its instability has released a cold, low-pressure system to travel south

It is negative four degrees fahrenheit just outside the door where I sit writing. But for the three dead ash trees that we cut down several days ago, it would be close to that on this side of the doors. We have been preparing to welcome this visitor from the north.

The phenomena of the breech that allows a part of the cold to wander can be theoretically explained by the warming Arctic and loss of sea ice. While science often reveals great truth, it has a penchant for revealing it in cut up pieces and not always connected to other ways of knowing. The very word ‘science’ means to cut apart. I cut apart cats when I was in nursing school as a way of gaining a greater understanding of cats. But, I have also learned much from relating to cats that I have not cut apart.

I started wondering about the wandering cold. What are the threads beyond the science of it?

There is something about experiencing extreme cold that I deeply love. Kent Nerburn has a book titled ‘A Haunting Reverence’. That term, ‘haunting reverence,’ is what I mean by ‘love’. The cold commands my attention and stills the entire land. Squirrels move like enjambed poems instead of in their long summer sentences. The bones of the trees stand stripped of the flesh of flowering and growth. And then, the snow reminds me that there is always a beneath to the surface, no matter how brilliantly it reflects light. Death comes and walks beside me and I know that death will lock step with many. There will be a time when it is me.

The haunting reverence the cold holds space for reminds me of the sikke. It is said that the sikke (camel hair felted hat that dervishes wear) is a tombstone that signifies the death of the ego. It sits in the middle of the dervish’s spinning atop their head, holding the still space for listening. The listening is to the larger dance. Rumi said the whirling mirrors the planets’s orbits around the sun.

There is nothing ‘woo woo’ about the microcosm and the macrocosm sharing ways of being. My poetry teacher Fran Quinn often said: “It’s not ‘woo woo’, it’s just paying attention”.  That the Dervish treasures the same stillness for hearing the world anew that I treasure in the cold…and that the cold that sits atop our planet is held in place by stratospheric winds circling the planet twenty miles above the surface like the Dervish’s tunic… this is something that I am paying attention to today.

When the cold leaves the northern center to journey down into what is now called the United States, at a point in history when few seem to have any capacity to pay attention, how do we listen in a way beyond seeking explanation?…explanations either that climate change is not real or climate change is very real.

Likely, the heat generated by industrialization and the pollution has knocked the spinning vortex out of its rhythm. Likely, our collapsed attention spans have created a world that doesn’t hear the rhythm of the greater life. Likely we have lost language to speak of our connection to the larger spinnings of the world and can therefore not honor our place in the dance. I don’t know. I read that if the dervish becomes too caught up in his or her revolutions, that another dervish will tap their tunic to bring them back. What if the low-pressure system wandering down from the Arctic is that little tap? Could the cold be saying “Hey, there are many dancers on the floor, please root your attention in the larger dance and not just your own”?

I am declaring that this is what is happening. 

This is what I heard the cold say:

“Hey, there are other dancers on the floor. Some of them are human. Some of them are not human. Some of them are not even ‘living’. I need your complete attention right now. I am tapping you on the tunic. Dissipate your need to be the star of this production. Take a deep icy breath and watch it return to the larger world as frozen mist. Be astonished by the mist’s beauty. Let the next sentence spin from your mouth with the same beauty as the mist. Welcome back to the dance.”