Snow Emergency

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Excerpt from “Snow Emergency,” Yankee Magazine, January 1990.

cardinal in snowSnow has fallen, snow on snow: the words of the bleak midwinter carol fulfill themselves. The newspapers have been full of the snow, the newspapers thrown on lawns and porches have been buried under it. TV has warned and advised against it and hourly reports its progress. And all week, like a ponderous Victorian novelist, the snow has continued to write its own voluminous story.

Snow is falling now as I watch. It is rising, the Weather Bureau tells us, an inch an hour. Fall and rise, contradictory terms for the same moment, observed from the warm side of the window glass. I have cleared my desk and gone through a backlog of ironing, and still there have been long intervals in which to sit and stare. The day has not changed at all in color or brightness, and in the perpetual twilight the hours have seemed irrelevant.

Outside the garden is still except for the swirling air. But as I watch, the laden branches of a shrub, bent toward the ground, suddenly let fall their clumps of snow into the matching thickness. The bush straightens gratefully, as if released from anxiety or sin.

The footprints that two big dogs from next door made earlier are filling up. My bird-feeding shelf has strata like the discovered ages of Troy. It becomes covered more quickly than I can keep it clear, so I throw more seeds on the snow, and the sky throws more snow on the seeds.

The day seems to belong to the past. Very early, in the time drift between night and morning, I was drawn to the open window by the smell of snow (How can snow have a smell? Do stars make a sound?), and I was almost convinced that I could hear the rattling slap of decades ago tire chains and the repeated clank of a broken link hitting a high fender.

Time without curbs or crossings, snow without boundaries. Snow in the forest at the edge of town, the sound of a tree exploding from the pressure of frozen sap, the silence of a snowed-in pine grove, the lake grumbling as the freezing water agitates against itself. Snow on the plains, on the steppes … I am brought back by a cardinal that flashes into the frame of a monochrome vision, pauses on a white branch against the pale sky, then vanishes. I know he must be perching on his favorite tree on the other side of the house.

Even as I write this, spellbound and safe, I think of all those it may anger: drivers of snowplows and salt trucks, people stranded in cars and buses (or without cars and buses), working parents of schoolchildren without school, earmuffed people breaking through to barns and mailboxes, men and women on telephones canceling appointments, mail carriers, waterworks crews, senior citizens running out of groceries. All of them will turn from my sentences in scorn and say, no, it’s not like that.

They, and so many others, are busy coping. Most days I cope, in one way or another. But today I am only a privileged woman at home, a captive of the weather, entranced by my captor.

  • I am overwhelmed with the photos of the snowflakes. How beautuful they are. I remember as a child trying to capture some snowflakes to see the beauty of them. Finally I see the beauty. Thank so much you for this beautiful article on Bentley’s Snowflakes.

  • Know the feeling..part of you resents not being part of the scene where every one seems important ,the other part of you realizes what a gift it is to have the time to just watch what happens when nature takes over and be safe and warm while your indulging yourself .
    Certain ages offer these trade offs, take these gifts and enjoy.


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