“We can expect from 10 to 12 inches.”
“The weatherman says 12 to 24 inches.”
“My wife heard at work we could get 30 to 40 inches.”
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
(“Snowstorm” by Ralph Waldo Emerson)
The world so familiar to us, when it snows, is like another planet. Peering out, we cannot see our neighbor’s houses. Do we even have neighbors? Or are we the only ones in this unfamiliar place? All bearings are gone. The snow flies sideways this way, then straight down, then that way.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
I am relieved at the cancellations. All obligations cease except the primal ones: shelter, warmth, light, food. Would that we had a fireplace. Lacking it, I light the four candles in the stand on the hearth in the mantle. We must have fire.
I think of other times, other snowstorms. During one blizzard in New York, I was eight and a half months pregnant with our second child. We lived in a barn apartment in the middle of a field, surrounded by suburbs. The husband was snowbound at work. As I looked out the window at the swirling whiteness, I wondered, if I went into labor, how I would get to the hospital.
That was the winter of the dogs. A pack of dogs had commandeered an empty house just a few hundred yards away. These tame family pets, when assembled together with no accountability but to each other, had been transformed into wild, ravenous, roving wolves. At times I could hear them. I would not go out alone.
My little daughter was my housemate in that storm. We did have a fireplace, a Franklin woodstove. We drank hot chocolate, read storybooks, played games.
These days it is the husband and me. What do we do, enclosed in this space together? Bake bread, make soup, read, crochet, listen to music, make music, watch movies, play Trivia. Quiet things.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
We look out the window, at the round table on the deck. The table where we had so many barbecued meals on hot summer evenings. We sat, sleeveless, often with a friend or two, eating grilled ribeye steaks, nibbling on horseradish cheese, sipping cabernet franc or our mojitos. Now the brown table, like a mug of stout, is topped with a tall head.
And there, hanging off the roof, is a frozen snow outcrop. It is a huge crystal chandelier. As snowflake adds to snowflake, it projects out farther and farther. Who dared this to happen? Is there a celestial bet on how big this thing can get without crashing to the ground?
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
In the morning after such a storm, we awaken to a world of whiteness. Drifts of snow are piled in odd places. Snowy hills indicate where our cars are hidden. Our pine trees’ branches, normally lifted to the sky as in praise, are now laden with snow, bowed down prostrate, touching the ground. All is still.
What is it about the unspoiled whiteness that evokes such awe?
In our neighborhood, the farmers plow the road first, making it passable. When the VDOT trucks come by, I feel joy and dismay.
For all its ferocity, this frolic architecture is a fragile, fleeting beauty. The world beyond — with its billions of people and obligations — is once again accessible. There is no excuse. We must dig out and go.