Of Snow and Dogs and Materialist A**H***s

by Jason Peters on February 2, 2011 · 24 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low,Region & Place

Blizzard

Rock Island, IL

The temptation to rhapsodize about the snow is pitched past pitch of joy. Outside the world whitens. True: it will be smeared with trade again soon enough and, ere that, corrupted with salt and plows and that vilest of all inventions, the snow blower, until at last this baptized world once again bears man’s smudge and wears man’s smell. But tonight it whitens. Tonight, though the earth be as scarlet, it shall be white with snow.

The snow gathers higher and higher on my pile of maple, split and stacked and ready to warm this buzzing joyous domicile. Lo! The snow mounts white on white upon the rails of my deck, the roof of my shed, the cedars across the ravine. See it swirl in the air and yet drop as the gentle dew of heaven. Its quality is not strained. How like imputed righteousness it comes to me; how like a robe of incorruption it adorns this too too sullied flesh.

It will keep doing this as long as it wants to, and, thank God, there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. The snow is going to do what it wants to do until it’s done doing it, and I, like Thomas Merton in his shack listening to the sheer gratuity of the rain (listening to get its meaning before someone re-means it by bottling and selling it)—I am going to listen and find out what it has to say.

(What? Dost not know Merton’s “Rain and the Rhinoceros”? O my friend and O my enemy: get thee a copy post post haste and read deep, deep into its peerless lines. It will change thy life—and du muβt dein Leben ändern, as Rilke has well said.)

The Weather Babe says to expect as many as twenty-two inches by morning (I saw her on the screen at the store where I purchased my celebratory libation), and on such a night as this we’ll let the easy locker-room joke pass. Twenty-two! For such a night as this was I made. You know that I was born for a night like this. Here I will sing for you my Longfellow’s Serenade.

And to think there are people, men and women of flesh and blood, made in the image of God, who do not like the snow! Who do not love it! O the fallenness of man! O the crimson stain! I will pray for them this very evening; for them will I work my beads. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for these dimwits now and in the hour of their death.

I move about the kitchen, taking in the smells, tossing this and that to make sure the urchins get fed (but as for me, my eyes feast enough: who could eat on such a night?), and I look out my kitchen window at this blessing undisguised. Hast thou considered the treasures of the snow? Then how about the pleasures of the allusive style?

Wait! A finger of bourbon, neat!

Ah, bourbon! Ah, snow! Forget the fox holes. There are no atheists in my kitchen.

Eat, little ones, and fight all you want. I must clear the drive on the installment plan: once now, twice later. Nurse Goodbody might be able to get home tonight after attending to the stents of all those pork-fed Iowans. And if she can, if she can crawl in beside me later tonight, tired and safe and pleased enough with the prepared warmth, well then I’ll show her. By God I’ll roll over and see if she can refuse a wet sloppy kiss from these joyous beery lips.

I clear from the driveway at least a third of what the Weather Babe has promised. The howling north wind sends half of every shovel-full back into my face, thence onto the drive, to be shoveled and heaved again. And O how I love it. Snow! The Whiteness of the snow. Do you hear me, Herman Melville? The Whiteness of the snow. And you, Thomas Merton: the gratuity of it. What’s it good for? Nothing! Who can commodify it? No one! Snow makers on ski hills? Ha! It’s not this that they make. Not this. Not this mannah. A hundred bucks says it was perpetually winter in Eden, as in Narnia, but always Christmas there.

Christmas! I had almost forgot! Self, I say to myself, put on some music—on this, the evening of the first of February. Now! Louder! Valentine’s Day can kiss my keester. It’s Christmas in February. If St. Jesus and St. Valentine cost me equally (and they do), let this day be Christmas.

And speaking of Lewis: you haven’t forgotten That Hideous Strength, have you? Remember what the narrator says: grown-ups have forgotten what snow’s for. But not the children and not the dogs. Look at them! They know what the snow’s for. They’re out exuberating in it, rejoicing in it, rolling in and snapping at it, relishing it. Making snow angels, for heaven’s sake. The sorry-ass grown-ups I know would do well to ascend to childhood or doghood on such a night as this.

But who among them will? They’ve eaten the fruit of the Stupid Tree. They’ve believed the talking head on the six-o’clock news: “The forecast is not looking good. Stay tuned.”

Stay tuned? Why should I? I know you of old, you misbegotten knave, you heretic, you barbarian, you-you-you you thing, you! For you snow is nothing more than an impediment to driving! Away with your impiety! Away with your permitted notions and your odious publicly sanctioned sentiments. And, while you’re at it, away with you and your vile medium. I’ll turn my head to the window.

Shit! What was that?

Ah, Nellie, the neighborhood canine, dragging her leash and giving her owners hell and grief and who knows what else. Bless you, Nellie! I took you for a coyote. You, Nellie, you know what snow is for. Run, girl! Run and frolic in the snow and take your pastime therein. See if you can teach a grown-up or two to consider the treasures of the snow. I’ll sit here and look out at the thickening flakes and take another sip of Imperial IPA and brace myself for second-shift shoveling.

Are the urchins in bed? Damn me if the youngest one isn’t still flitting about like the superhero he’s dressed as. No school for him tomorrow, but I don’t have to tell him that. Teeth brushing and wee-wee and to bed with him.

That reminds me! No school! The morning darkness and the early hours are mine. All mine, I tell you! O coffee at my elbow! O snow outside my window! O book on my lap!

And a day later round the coffee pot at the Institution of Higher Learning I’ll be told that tonight was all just chemical reactions and brain states. Certified experts with PhDs in philosophy (though none of them loves wisdom) will tell me I’m just wagging my tail.

There’s not a child or a dog that can show these poor bastards the error of their ways. I’ll bet the sonsabitches are mad because they couldn’t get their Marxist Volvos out of their Humean driveways.

Well, say I, let them rot on every snow day in the triple hell of Good Morning, America. And, says the snow, may their toast be burnt and their eggs overcooked!

Pox take ’em! We’ll do as we’ve done, the snow and I. And we’ll do it again. By God, we will!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jeffrey Polet February 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Actually, the snow shovel is a more vile invention still. My children and I go out and scoop the snow out of our driveway with our bare hands, as God intended.

avatar EJ February 2, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I myself am brightened by the thought of coffee, my reading room, and nowhere else to go. Is it the Minnesotan in me who likes to keep the house cold, so that I can wrap up later with the quilt my mother made me and write letters to the friends and family I never see? I hope the wind keeps carving out excuses for me. Ah, if students only knew how much teachers enjoy these days, too.

avatar Nicole Naudé February 2, 2011 at 3:12 pm

You have righted my wronged frustration at this white stuff. I had before been frustrated with hours of digging my Marxist Chevy out of the inches of ice, saddened by all the road accidents and flu-like symptoms. Now I know they are all the media’s tropes–as though the necessary and good things would ever be forsaken. Are not the collective breaths of life–paused and realigned for a moment–a more significant indicator of the weather’s true joy, rather than personal inconvenience?

In all seriousness-thank you, Jason, for the satire and exhortation. Thomas Merton always forces me to my humble knees.

avatar Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Mr. Peters, why is it that you hate humanity with such a burning intensity? All right-thinking people know that snow shovels KILL hundreds of people every year. Kills them dead! Proof, from just today:

http://www.slate.com/id/2283412/

Yes. The snowblower will save us all. It is the only solution. The only one. Can you think of another? No, you can’t.

avatar Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Great article. Glad to see I’m not the only one who loves the snow.

avatar John Médaille February 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Dallas area under rolling blackouts. Four so far this morning. Hope I can press “post” before the next one hits. And we didn’t even have a blizzard, just cold (low of 15) and two inches of snow. The deregulated grid can’t take the load.

avatar Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Shovel snow? What else are urchins for then?

avatar Jonathan Cook February 2, 2011 at 10:16 pm

(Golf clap)

avatar Thomas McCullough February 2, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Given that the weather is what is and it IS prior to human activity, I’ve felt from my youth the absurdity of news reports that state how much lost revenue a particular storm “cost” the region as if that cash were the basic state of nature and the storm was some aberration.

We’re having ice storms. It’s not as good as snow, but has its own beauty. I love it.

avatar Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Beauty? I know beauty.

We moved into this house last year. An elderly preacher lives next door. I spent a year shoveling my walk and his, as it seemed like the right thing to do. But in the intervening year, someone on the OTHER side of me decided to start wintering in Florida, leaving THEIR snowblower in the care of a young 20-something who just moved in. In exchange for using the snowblower, he does their walk as well as his own. But he understands about the preacher, and decided it would be easier for for him to snowblow it than it is for me to shovel it. And it would be kind of rude to turn it off while passing over MY walk. So he doesn’t turn it off, and the shoveling gets done by the magic of community!

Moral of the story: Buy your neighbor a snowblower. (I now have plans to buy my neighbor a boat, a pool, a pony and a tap system, as well.)

avatar Anonymous February 2, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Beauty? I know beauty.

We moved into this house last year. An elderly preacher lives next door. I spent a year shoveling my walk and his, as it seemed like the right thing to do. But in the intervening year, someone on the OTHER side of me decided to start wintering in Florida, leaving THEIR snowblower in the care of a young 20-something who just moved in. In exchange for using the snowblower, he does their walk as well as his own. But he understands about the preacher, and decided it would be easier for for him to snowblow it than it is for me to shovel it. And it would be kind of rude to turn it off while passing over MY walk. So he doesn’t turn it off, and the shoveling gets done by the magic of community!

Moral of the story: Buy your neighbor a snowblower. (I now have plans to buy my neighbor a boat, a pool, a pony and a tap system, as well.)

avatar D.W. Sabin February 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Yea, well try being tailed by a fishtailing Armored Car for 25 miles on un-plowed roads during a 3 hour trip en-blizzard back from the airport that usually takes 50 minutes. Then, arriving at your snowbound abode a white-knuckled zombie you receive an email photo from your spouse who fled the premises on one of the last planes out and just had to show you the size of the Lemons growing on the tree out back in Englewood Beach. I had to violate her fatwas on cigars in the house just to recover.

The recovery seems to be taking a long time though so I think a Bloody Steak, Onion rings, some ice cream and another Nat Sherman Cheroot are further prescribed because I think the Cardiologists are trying to kill me.

I’m only glad my plower is promptly attentive.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Yea, well try being tailed by a fishtailing Armored Car for 25 miles on un-plowed roads during a 3 hour trip en-blizzard back from the airport that usually takes 50 minutes. Then, arriving at your snowbound abode a white-knuckled zombie you receive an email photo from your spouse who fled the premises on one of the last planes out and just had to show you the size of the Lemons growing on the tree out back in Englewood Beach. I had to violate her fatwas on cigars in the house just to recover.

The recovery seems to be taking a long time though so I think a Bloody Steak, Onion rings, some ice cream and another Nat Sherman Cheroot are further prescribed because I think the Cardiologists are trying to kill me.

I’m only glad my plower is promptly attentive.

avatar Rob G February 3, 2011 at 5:48 pm

“vilest of all inventions, the snow blower”

Personally I think the leaf blower is far more vile, but now is neither the time nor place…

The hatred of snow represents our addiction to being somewhere else. The snowblower represents our addiction to having to be there fast.

avatar Zrim February 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who like (and thus quote) Neil Diamond, and those that don’t. I say, ride, come on, baby, ride. Let me make your dreams come true.

avatar Marion Miner February 3, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Ha… asshats. Haven’t heard that term in a while; thanks, brought a smile to my face.

Now I’m going to read the article.

avatar Marion Miner February 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Whoops, not asshats. Misread the number of asterisks. But oh well… I did read the article, and I enjoyed it. Thanks.

avatar Veronimitch February 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Gerard Manley Hopkins would be proud. Or ashamed. One of ‘em.

avatar Sage February 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I think you’re not thinking this all the way through. Distaste for these machines comes through their lethargic nature. Yes, people die each winter due to shoveling, but, I’m sorry to say this, the reason there are so many cardiac arrests is precisely the reason why Peters condemns the snow blower – sluggishness/lack of mobility/lack of activity/lack of organic connection with the activity of removing snow from the holy ground. Thus, after years of physical inactivity that predominates most of America, the heart has accustomed to its sluggish mind’, deteriorating the body’s capability for extraneous physical activity. (of course, extraneous is a relative term, although it shouldn’t be).

Kill the machine

avatar Sage February 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Amen

avatar Anonymous February 4, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I fear I did not imbue my comment with enough derision. Of course… I agree with you. And Peters. The article I linked to is “What’s Wrong with America.” The idea that snow shovels “kill people” is preposterous on its face. It’s like saying that stairs kill drunk people. I am all for well-designed snow shovels. But if we get to the point where people are keeling over because their shovel doesn’t hhave two handles on it… perhaps the handles aren’t the problem.

avatar Dianne February 4, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Agreed about the leaf blower. It is pure evil, lacking nothing in the fullness of its menace.

avatar bourbonapocalypse February 5, 2011 at 4:46 am

Dr. Peters, to me, you are winter. (Shivering fantastic.)

avatar Anonymous February 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm

With such a love of snow, have you yet visited the annual mid-February UP 200 sled dog races in Marquette, Michigan? Bring your thermos of chocolate and watch the dogs run.

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