In the late afternoon, on a day just a little above zero, I walk through the woods down to edge of the lake. I come out of the woods where Porter Brook feeds into the lake, and the ice there, despite the cold, looks thinnish. There’s no one around at all. In the summer, that stretch of beach is noisy with vacationers. But now, even not a crow appears.
The post-holiday surge of Covid rages around us. These are not the cheeriest of days. My father, sister, nephew, and I — triangulated around the United States — decide to read and virtually converse about Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease To Understand the World — in essence, the perfect title for our times.
Live in New England long enough, and you crave the return of ice, the experience of cold and clean winter, the turning around of seasons. The ice will pass, too. Cold, I crouch at the ice’s edge. A squirrel skitters out of the hemlocks and chitters at me before scampering off. Then it’s just me for a moment, and all that sky and the mysteries of the frozen lake. In January, the days give cold and a few extra minutes of sunlight….
Here’s the opening lines of Labatut’s book:
In a medical examination on the eve of the Nuremburg Trials, the doctors found the nails of Hermann Göring’s ﬁngers and toes stained a furious red, the consequence of his addiction to dihydrocodeine, an analgesic of which he took more than one hundred pills a day. William Burroughs described it as similar to heroin, twice as strong as codeine, but with a wired coke-like edge, so the North American doctors felt obliged to cure Göring of his dependency before allowing him to stand before the court. This was not easy. When the Allied forces caught him, the Nazi leader was dragging a suitcase with more than twenty thousand doses, practically all that remained of Germany’s production of the drug at the end of the Second World War. His addiction was far from exceptional, for virtually everyone in the Wehrmacht received Pervitin as part of their rations, methamphetamine tablets that the troopers used to stay awake for weeks on end, ﬁghting in a deranged state, alternating between manic furore and nightmarish stupor, with overexertion leading many to suffer attacks of irrepressible euphoria.