Saturday, February 03, 2007

Verities in a Smoor

Eskimos (Aleutians) do not have 400 words for snow. This was one of those unexamined truths that is passed along without being examined. Scots, however, probably have that many words for different flavors of precipitation. I won't make a prounouncement until I have counted them all.

I dragged myself off the sofa Wednesday evening to go to my writer's group. My feet were heavy even before I saw the weather--an odd mixture of foggy-rainy-drizzly coolish air that confounded the darkness of the rural road for the 10 miles into town into a flat grey horizon with ghost lights emerging and disappearing in an eerie silence and a shoulder obscured in mist and wet-shine. This murky perspective pulled my routinely competent left-hand driving experience back into the awkward self-consciousness of the looking glass experience. Thus, I was doubly pleased to arrive safely at my destination and see my friends and fellow writers for the first time in nearly three months.

"Weird weather tonight," I offer into the conversational mix.

"Aye."

"We call it a smoor."

"Smoor?" I try wrapping my mouth around the new word trying not to think of "Smurf" or schmear. "Like a har?"

"Och aye, but faster moving."

And then the definitive answer for those already familiar with basic weather words:
"Och, a drookit misty swirl of rain."

Over cups of coffee or tea (more coffee drinkers than tea drinkers in case you wonder about the British stereotype), we settle slowly into the business of the group. Christine tells about a class that will be offered at the local college on writing for drama. I have learned that in order to ensure that things happen up here, it is a question of numbers. I say yes right away. I explain to the rest that I have adopted my own personal campaign to overcome Caithness reticence: "Say Yes first. Then figure out how to make it happen." We all have a good laugh to steel us for the hard work to follow. Some time during the evening each of us will read from our recent writings. It sounds easy, but it is not. First, you have to have been writing rather than thinking about it or talking about it. And then you put yourself on the line. The group is friendly and supportive and we are all fellow writers, but the stark terror of reading those lines out loud is as daunting now as it was when I was in the Bluebird reading group in first grade.

The only thing worse than those grim, sweaty palmed, quaking voice moments is the thought of never having written all the things in my head--that means the rubbishy ones, and, hopefully, the good ones.

George, a real writer and the group's leader, reminds us of the verities of writing, which in my paraphrase mean that you face the sweaty palm moments, the I would rather lie on the sofa than drive through a smoor moments, and the long hours alone writing because that is what it means to get to the brass ring or exorcising the voices in your head, whichever metaphor you feel is more apt.

As always, I test my newfound knowledge on Morris when I get home. In response to my question about a smoor, he describes it as a swirly snow that gets inside your nose no matter what you do. His expression suggests many times caught in a smoor. I count my blessings that all I had to do was drive through it.

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12 Comments:

At 6:07 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

How many contrasts are in the countryside in Caithness--first the gorse is on its way to blooming yellow and then the smoor comes! I envy your living someplace where you can detect slight changes even in January. Perhaps in Indiana there are changes and I just can't see them.

I drove home to Indy from a Lilly IT after-work party at our team leader's home in Lafayette on a Friday night in early 1997 through a smoor--the snow was driving almost horizontally at my windows. I'd had 2 beers so I stayed on Route 52 rather than brave the interstate. I felt daring and slightly irresponsible and cozy and scared all at the same time.

If Robert Frost had known this word, do you think he'd have written, "The only other sound's the ***smoor***/Of easy wind and downy flake"? Nooooo. Although it sounds as if a smoor can sweep, I'll wager it doesn't have an easy wind.

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Poetry in Scots would have to be different. Robbie Burns could make it work but I have a ways to go yet. I like that back road from Lafayette to Indy. I went up to Dunnet Head today and was overwhelmed by the contrasts. The heathers seemed to make oceans among themselves and the lochans competed with the sea for blueness.

 
At 2:49 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

wonderful words, tasty, makes me want to roll them around in my mouth.

 
At 7:06 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

A "smoor" sounds like something the kids make on sleepovers, doesn't it?

Do you print out your blog entries for the writers' group? Or must it be something else?

 
At 3:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll chime in with a weather note for my IN friends. It was 82 in sunny Phoenix today. My parents are flying in tomorrow, which is exciting both for me and for them. I called my dad yesterday morning and the wind chill was -25. School was delayed because it's too cold to have the kiddos stand outside and wait for the bus. Today it's been snowing there. Not sure if you have snow too then, Amy.

The funny thing here is that the temp fluctuates so much between night and day. It might be 35 just before dawn but then 75 by 3:00. The "winter" nights here are cold, but not at all cold like IN. Most nights it is clear and beautiful and rarely any wind, which is the killer back home. We got a puppy for Christmas, so I spend much time outside at 4AM now. Standing out with the dog, looking at the clear sky, finally able to see a sky full of stars again - it's actually quite nice, even if I am tired.

 
At 7:07 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Cur, I read a piece from my blog for first session of writer's group but now I read something else. I am working on a short story. I have committed to finishing that and another children's story as well as making some serious work toward turning blog pieces and journal pieces into a real book. I am terrified. Success and failure are equally terrifying so I need a real scare with cattle going wild or a bull getting cranky and walking through a wall to calm me down or put things in perspective.

 
At 7:09 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh I love the idea of words as food rolling around in your mouth. I think you need to lose your job so you can come to the Highlands for a writer's retreat. You may change your mind after I talk about the weather just now, but summer here is wonderful...

 
At 7:14 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, anonymous, you make me so jealous. It is as cold in Chicago proper, I think, as in the Region, but I think I can take whining rights for cold (or cauld as they say here) inside the house. As I cooked dinner last night, I could see my breath. I sit now in the office with my glove-mittens on. We have just a bit of snow on the ground in some spots, but there is snow on the nearby little mountain--Ben Ratha.

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger Hayden said...

I visited Scotland once - barely, and never very far. Wonderful landscape though. fell completely in love with eilan coos. parked by the side of a road and hiked up a small mountain. So easy. each step I'd say "just up to that next rivulet" and then I looked down and the car was a toy beneath me.

There are worse things that could happen than losing my job. It would be a wonderful excuse to travel for awhile.

 
At 8:07 AM, Blogger scorrie said...

smoor is very small fine snow blowing fiercely around you so that whatever way you turn it gets up your nose and into your eyes and catches your breath // you also cannot see anything if caught out in a storm, even going from house to the farm buildings just across the yard was serious // scorrie //

 
At 8:07 AM, Blogger scorrie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger ZACL said...

Expressions like, "oops" "O Lordy" "You didn't, did you?" "That was brave", spring readily to mind when someone who drives the routes you do, makes it to the destination and returns safely to their haven.

 

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