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!