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In which John considers the pathetic fallacy and the most Midwestern form of precipitation.
You can read Kaveh Akbar's poem "Wild Pear Tree" in the brilliant book Calling a Wolf a Wolf.
The Mountain Goats song reference here is called "The Mess Inside."

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday.  There's a Kaveh Akbar poem that begins, "It's been January for months in both directions," and it really has been.  For quite a while here in Indianapolis, the only answer to why is the sky blue has been that it isn't blue.  I keep thinking about a line from a Mountain Goats song, "The grey sky was vast and real cryptic above me."  Real cryptic, indeed. 

There's a phrase in literary analysis for our habit of ascribing human emotions to the non-human: the pathetic fallacy, which is often used to reflect the inner life of characters through the outer world as when Keats in "Ode to Melancholy" writes of a weeping cloud or Shakespeare in Julius Caesar refers to "threatening clouds".  In Emily Dickinson's poetry, sometimes the clouds are curious, other times mean, and this literary device often works because ultimately, whether a cloud weeps or threatens is largely down to who's looking at it and when.  

So here in the American middle, there is a common weather phenomenon we call "wintry mix".  Precipitation will shift from sleet to snow to rain and then back again.  Sometimes we'll get these weird snow pellets called "graupel".  Snow is beautiful, almost ridiculously picturesque as it wafts down from the sky and blankets the ground.  Wintry mix is radically unromantic, as nicely captured by the word graupel.  It feels like the sky is spitting on you.

For years now, I've wanted to review wintry mix for my podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed because it is such a thoroughly Midwestern form of precipitation: practical, unlovely, and unpretentious, but the problem with wintry mix is that there's literally nothing interesting about it.  Snow is interesting, like, consider for example the story of Wilson Bentley, the amateur photographer who became the first person to take a close-up photograph of a snowflake in 1885 and went on to photograph more than 5,000 snowflakes, which he called ice flowers and tiny miracles of beauty.  

That's good stuff, but wintry mix, at least so far as I'm aware, has no such tails to tell.  That photographer Wilson Bentley once said, "The farm folks up in the country dread the winter, but I was supremely happy."  It's hard to imagine even Wilson Bentley being supremely happy about wintry mix, but if I can't write about it for the Anthropocene Reviewed, I'll write about it here.  Obviously, I don't love being pelted by tiny balls of freezing rain or having sleet lash at me from seemingly impossible angles as it blows across the flat and unbroken misery of a grocery store parking lot, but I do kind of like wintry mix.  

It's one of the ways I know that I'm home.  I love Indianapolis precisely because it isn't easy to love.  You have to stay here a while to know its beauty.  You have to learn to read the clouds as something more than threatening or dreary.  The words "pathetic fallacy" sound derogatory and they were originally intended as such but two things make the pathetic fallacy work.  First, many of us really are affected by the weather, especially in the slimly lit days of winter, and so even if the weather doesn't have human emotions, it does literally cause them, and secondly, we can't help but see the world around us in the context of ourselves, especially our emotional selves.  That's not a bug of human consciousness, but a feature of it.  

As Sarah and I drove through Indianapolis last week on our way to a poetry reading, the weather didn't feel angry or spiteful.  It felt adventurous, even hopeful.  On another night, of course, the same weather would have been threatening or menacing or joyless.  What you're looking at matters, but not as much as how you're looking or who you're looking with and that night, I was with just the right person in just the right place and I'll be damned if the weather wasn't beautiful.  

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.