Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best Moment of the Year, So Far

Jasper Johns, Target, 1958.
It was a warm, breezeless New Year's Day, and my wife and I were out for a walk along the Muddy River in Brookline, where we live, which runs between the the urban hill of the VA Hospital in Boston and the more suburban environs of our town. There was plenty of snow on the ground after last week's big storm. We were up on a path that overlooks the river, still mostly iced over. The trees were brown, but with a sappy green coming through.

I said to Margaret, "watch this. See that tree, the big one? See the first big branch? See the knot?" She nodded. "I'm going to hit it." It was about a hundred or a hundred and ten feet. It was fairly high on the tree, so it was level or only slightly downhill from where we stood. It was an almost impossible shot. It was the kind of throw it would ordinarily take me four or five shots to get pretty close. I've got a very accurate arm, although I don't throw all that hard any more. I made a snowball. The warm day made for perfect packing. It was a nice hefty ball, not too big, and unlikely to come apart in the air. I loosened up my arm by swinging the snowball in a big circle and doing a couple of mock-throwing motions. I took a crow hop and strode into the throw. The release was clean.

There is something I love about the arc of a thrown object. You can see in the arc all kinds of invisible forces. Gravity. Wind. And, well, force itself. But there is something fantastic about an object that hits its mark, especially a distant one, as this was. It almost looks film in reverse, the way movements seem fated and inevitable (because they've already happened!). In this particular case, which was my first and only snowball of the day, the arc and the destination of the snowball were fated, but only by the precise motion of my arm. After a long three seconds of watching the snowball against the pale blue winter sky, I felt a sudden happiness. The snowball exploded, a white asterisk on the grey-green bark. Right where I said. Certainly the highlight of the young year, all of eleven hours of it. But maybe the best moment of the last twelve months, too.

No comments: