Posts Tagged ‘winter’


When my cousin Rob was struck by lightning, he woke up under his own dining room table and lay there for a few minutes trying to decide if he was dead. He has never First Snowbeen a big believer in his own soul, so the thought that he might be dead and yet somehow still under the table cogitating caused him some concern.

Eventually he decided that dead would probably hurt less, and he crawled out, discovering in the process that while he was alive, all of his electronics were not. He never even found all of his cell phone. What he said later was, “Grandaddy was right.”

Our grandfather lived much of his life in fear of all things meteorological, plus snakes and moving water. In summer, he would squint at the horizon and say, “It looks like it’s going to come a thunderstorm.” In winter, he did the same squint and said “Feels like snow.” My mother grew up seriously afraid of storms and used to spend them in the (enclosed) staircase of our house, while my sister and I watched from the windows. She counted that as one of her greatest achievements—she didn’t pass on her fear.

And yet there is a genetics that goes deeper than experience, and that is why I am not a fan of snow. Where I grew up, snow was not your white, fluffy friend. Out in the country, people stayed put, or if they had to drive, they did so slowly, with chains, and even then sometimes spent the night in their cars when things went bad on Max Creek Hill or Lowman Hill. Nobody went joyriding in the snow because if you slid off the road somewhere, it might take days to dig you out, and in the meantime, who was going to take care of the cows?
So even now, I have a “Who is going to take care of the cows?” mentality. My Beloved has to get to work no matter what, because hospitals do not close due to weather conditions. Our friend the letter carrier will carry mail, and our friend the state police officer will patrol. I just can’t do the happy dance when it snows.

But there’s this: My Beloved was able to get home on Thursday evening before 81 shut down. By that time, the roads weren’t too bad, thanks to people who, metaphorically, take care of the cows. Our whole street came out to shovel yesterday; it was a party, albeit a little short on canapés and booze. Watching the dog trying to find a place to poop cracks me up. It’s the little things that matter, when the world slows down for snow.

This morning, I finished another quilt top and had bacon for breakfast for the second day in a row. The guys are downstairs watching basketball, and there might be music later. I have yet to be struck by lightning, and Rob does not pick up radio stations with his teeth, so perhaps the world is not as scary as I’m genetically programmed to believe it is.

But it will be okay with me if this is the last snow of the season . . .


Some Random Thoughts on Snow Words

I just got a text message from my sister.  “Snow’s here!” 

It has been snowing all day, and in some instances, the snowflakes have been the biscuit-sized conglomerations that say, “Hey, it’s too warm to snow.”  But in the last hour, the temperature has dropped, and the pear tree outside my study window now looks like this: 

There is a myth that Eskimos have a very large number of words for snow.  In fact, English has just as many, or more, words for snow as most of the Inuit languages that can be lumped together by the morphologically challenged and called “Eskimo.”  People who live in snow-intensive climates are just as likely as we are to think of compounds, like wind-snow, snow flurries, snow plow, snow suit . . . you get the idea . . . but they’re not really coming up with new words for frozen precipitation.  This is somehow disappointing, because I think we need to differentiate between this morning’s desultory, quickly melting stuff, and tonight’s thickly falling flakes.

Ten thousand years ago, when an ice age crawled across the planet and I was the student of George P. Winship, Jr., I started reading the linguistic theories of Benjamin Whorf.  The short version of Whorf’s life-work seems blindingly obvious:  language both describes our worlds and shapes them.  To put it slightly differently, the words with which we think and talk about something affect the thing itself, or at least the thing as it exists for us.

This is the theory of linguistic relativity, and it suffered a lapse in the mid-twentieth century, only to rebound when people realized that the world really isn’t big and simple after all, and the relationship between language and, well, everything, is insanely complicated.  The disturbing truth is a kind of Von Heisenberg principle of linguistics:  because we have to use words to study things and ideas, we shape the ideas and things with the words. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but a turdblossom is a turdblossom.

Which leads us by circuitous routes back to snow.  “Snow” is fluffy, white, pure, feathery, delicate, and not mixed with sleet.  It floats, drifts, and wafts; it never pelts, pounds, drums, or soaks.  It falls.  Snow is silent, blanketing, a coverlet on the landscape.  Its crystalline nature sparkles, glints, and shimmers.  It transforms the landscape, thereby making the song “Winter Wonderland” possible.  It can be built into snowmen, snow women, and snow dogs.  (Also, if you are MY children, snow snakes, snow space aliens, and snow ramps to launch snow saucers into snowbanks.) 

Despite the bulky image of the snowplow, the words for snow are mostly of a twinkly, airy-fairy nature, which is all very well until the squirrels launch themselves into the pear tree, starting an avalanche.  I have been content, this afternoon, to observe the snowfall, the gentle rhythm of the downy flakes described by Robert Frost as he stopped in his neighbor’s woods.  This evening, though, I find myself chortling and humming happily to myself because of that most fabulous of flake-related fantasies — my cell phone has just informed me that NRCC is closed tomorrow, and I have my favorite snow-word of all:  snow day!

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