The Middle Distance 11.4.11: Snow Day

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photo by Sean Cayton

I came up to the mountains because I wanted the world to stop. I wanted to be alone and quiet with just my thoughts and boxes of notes.

Then it began to snow. By morning about a foot had piled up on the deck furniture outside my bedroom window. The world outside was perfectly still except for the darting of a bird across the speared tops of the snow-speckled pines.

But nothing stopped, really, with the snow, not in this mountain town where snow is a commodity that drives commerce. A plow came up the cul-de-sac by mid-morning and cleared the driveway. The garbage truck made its rounds. Neighbors pulled their cars out of heated garages and headed off to work.

Inside, I made busy notes of all the things I needed to do when I returned home.

A week later I was still here, and it snowed again, another foot. It was too cold to take a walk outside, so instead I walked from room to room, looking out the windows at the cars and trucks rolling like toys down the plowed highway far below my mountainside perch.

I tried to remember a time when snow really stopped the world, the 1960s South of my childhood where there were no road crews to speak of, no plows, just a few pickup trucks dribbling salt onto the major highways.

A good ground covering of snow and the schools closed, the city government closed, businesses closed, and moms and dads stayed home from work.
Here is how I remember it:

We look out our windows at the snow as if we are witnessing some alien being. Snow is rare; it is magical. We can’t stop staring at it, this thing that has come in the night and stopped the world.

We rush to get dressed and be outside in it.

We don’t have fleece or waterproof boots, down-filled jackets or serious weatherproof gloves, so we stand still as statues as our mother wraps us in whatever she can find to keep us dry and warm.

We cover our hands and feet in plastic bread bags. We pile on layers of sweaters and squeeze our winter coats over them. We stalk out the door like zombies, unable to bend for the bulk of tights and long underwear beneath our pants.

The world is so quiet outside our hooded heads. The snow crunches beneath our padded feet and our voices ring thin in the snow light air. We learn to walk first, then bend, then scoop, then fall. We knock each other over like inflatable punching bags. The snow and our layers of soft clothing absorb all blows.

We fill a giant mixing bowl with snow so our mother can make snow ice cream with milk and sugar. She hates the cold and sticks out a thin uncovered arm through the kitchen door, quickly drawing the bowl inside.

We wish for a few cars to drive down the street to pack the snow for sledding, but the only cars we see are frozen at precarious angles on the sides of the road, as if their drivers stopped mid-journey and just walked away. A few of the bigger boys manage to pack a narrow path and we slide down the street on wooden sleds with metal runners. The first few runs are sluggish, but eventually we pick up speed.

At the bottom of the hill, a deliberate crash and tumble, our own warm breath condensing on our eyelashes as we lie on our backs for a brief moment, looking skyward. Delicate flakes tumble from a gray background. We open our mouths and stick out our tongues but can’t capture a flake before it dissolves.

We stomp home, shrieking at the sight of dog piss, lemon yellow in the snow.

Inside, we strip to the bottom-most layer as our mother spreads towels on the kitchen floor. We are temporarily blinded by the absence of the outdoor light. Our cheeks are numb; our toes and fingers ache. We pour Hershey’s chocolate over a bowl of snow ice cream.

Yesterday morning, I called my son to see how our house and Colorado Springs fared in Tuesday’s snowstorm. Not much snow, he said, but he had a day off teaching, a snow day in his district. My friend in Denver, whose mountain home is my warm retreat, says her kids got a day off too and spent the whole day romping in the snow.
I listen to the quiet. Finally, the world has stopped.

Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feast: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys, Guns and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.


4 Responses to The Middle Distance, 11/4/11: Snow Day

  1. Anne Lennox says:

    Once again, thank you, Kathryn.

  2. 'Letta says:

    There is nothing like the quiet calm of beautiful big fluffy snowflakes falling and piling high flocking all the trees, bushes and fences. No footprints, car tracks, people or animals. Fresh, new, serene, peaceful in the wee hours of the morning or late, late nite after everyone is in or before everyone gets up. Thank you for sharing a bit of nostalgia of the 60’s. I grew up in the 50’s in Ohio. Plenty of snow for snow angels. We, too, caught snowflakes on the tongue (or tried to). I must say though that I never had snow ice cream.

  3. hannahfriend says:

    I remember a rare snow, long ago in the California redwoods, where I attended college. Sitting in the warm cafeteria during breakfast, I was surprised by a pull on my collar, then the icy shock of snow poured down my back by my mischievous roommate. We are still special friends, over 30 years later.

  4. Liz says:

    I so related to your words, Kathryn, and remembered days where my hood was pulled over my head so tightly that I could only hear the crunching of snow under my feet. I love that memory, and your words brought it back for me. Thanks also for the music at the end…that music was running through my head as read your words. It has been used in a previous snow story on the Big Something, and I LOVE it!!!
    Love to you – come home safe!


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