Depot Square after dark

Today is Keene’s annual Ice and Snow Festival, so last night on downtown’s Railroad Plaza, city crews heaped piles of snow scooped from other sites. You know it’s been an unseasonably warm winter when there’s a dearth of raw material for the annual snow-sculpting contest: as a point of comparison, two years ago, it was negative 14 degrees Fahrenheit without wind-chill the day after the festival.

Marquee reflections

Yesterday was mild and rainy, a day when most of Keene’s remaining snow sublimed into snow ghosts. Last night was similarly mild–well above freezing–so as I walked to and from a friend’s downtown art opening, the usual sights along Main Street took on an eery, other-worldly cast. “It looks like London out there,” one waitress called to another as I ate a Friday night special at Timoleon’s diner right before closing. I’ve never walked the streets of London after dark, and it’s been a long time since I’ve walked the nocturnal streets of Keene. But with the air last night rich with moisture, even the usual street lamps, shop windows, and lit marquees gleamed with a fuzzy, supernal glow.

Coffee date

Thoreau wasn’t much for urban nightlife, and neither am I…but Thoreau loved to walk by night, filling his 1851 journal with accounts of his monthly full-moon walks. Although I can’t speak for moon-walking, I can assure you that last night’s fog-walk showed a side of Keene that I’m not accustomed to, a softened, blurry side through which even a hint of warmth–like that emanating from a crowded coffeeshop, or the light from a packed theatre–burns through your consciousness like a beacon. On any Friday night, people mix and mingle…but on a foggy Friday, I think they draw closer than at other times, huddling around the communal fire of human companionship while solitary walkers like me watch (and snap photos) from outside, amazed by their glow.

On a foggy, lamp-lit street, you can almost touch the ghosts around you; these streets aren’t empty but full of the spirits of those who walk and have walked here. Snow isn’t the only phenomenon that leaves a heavy cloud when it passes; so do the souls of street-walkers, their silent footsteps echoing for a hearkened ear.

Empty sports pub

Before hitting the fog-shrouded streets to stroll home, I chatted with a local glass artisan who crafts multi-faceted tinted lamps–crafted star-light–and backwards-ticking glass clock faces. In a jewelry store filled with paintings, sand- and yarn-works, batik prints, and other earthly delights, there shone the prismatic sheen of hand-helped color. Even in a warm winter, February is a lonely month, so the beauty of last night’s art was almost equal to the beauty of co-mingled souls: other locals who ventured into the fog to gather around the spark of art, kindled from the embers of creativity and vision.

At one point while I was admiring those gleaming glass lamps, a woman asked me if I were an artist, and humbled by the abundance around me, I stammered. “Uh, no. I mean, I take pictures…but I can’t produce anything without the technology of a camera…I can’t make anything tactile.” On a night when even air had a velvet touch, the ephemeral ether of typed word and pixelated image seemed as insubstantial as a dissolving cloud. What seemed real instead were the hard matter of human contact and the palpable textures of painted canvas, blade-cut aluminum tape, and wrought iron.

Crossing Main Street

On the walk home, at my usual crossing spot in front of St. Bernard’s Parish on Main Street, the almost empty streets were filled with ghosts, the beams of head- and traffic-lights diffusing into moist air. Thoreau loved his moon-walks because they made his usual haunts seem foreign and alluring; Thoreau recognized the inefficacy of intoxicants in a world where darkness and the very air itself is hallucinogenic.

After dark funeral home

On a foggy Friday night, the true nature of everyday objects is laid bare, a local funeral home looking as ghostly as befits its business. Some would say these scenes look different in fog, that an atmospheric anomaly masked they way they “really” are, but I’d beg to differ. Perhaps daytime, not night, is the time of illusion. Maybe the palpable presences we so applaud by day are mere chimera, their spiritual auras appearing only when fog confounds the eyes of sense.

If I were an artist, I’d make clocks that did something more audacious than move backward. If I were an artist, I’d manipulate matter itself to make time stand still, capturing for eternity the blurred and gleaming spot in time when a solitary soul shone from a drizzle-dampened parking lot, a foggy Friday at the laundromat transformed into the ghost-haunted stuff of dreams.

Late-night laundry

My friend Sage Camille doesn’t have a website, but the other artist featured at last night’s opening, Segun Olorunfemi, does. And you can view Hans Schepker’s glass geometry, including his prismatic lamps, on his online collection of mathematically correct lighting and sculpture.