Thursday, February 3, 2011


Mother Nature hit the “reset” button the other day.

I’m still savoring the experience…though if you’d heard the swear words I was using while I shoveled the back porch, you’d think I have selective memory. Like women get about going into labor.

We got hit by a storm earlier this week that was one for the record books, at least in the Midwest. Chicago got nailed with a two foot snow dump that paralyzed the city, while in my neck of the woods, seventeen inches was still plenty of snow to shut the world down and tell us who was really in charge.

Weather forecasters had been beating the alarm drums steadily in the days leading up to when the heavens finally parted. Many took heed, myself included. The day before the storm was set to hit, instead of spending my lunch hour listlessly pushing the pedals of a creaky exercise bike, I dashed to a nearby grocery store to stock up staples like cat food, Charmin, and fixin’s for hot chocolate. Snow started to dust the streets as I drove home, the first chimes of an ominous symphony.

The next morning, there were a few inches of white on the ground, but I cautiously made my way back and forth the twenty five miles to a college where I had just begun teaching a class. I took the back roads rather than risk getting on the interstate, which appeared to be a parking lot from the string of unmoving red tail lights every time I crossed over it. The roads had a treacherous, “greasy” feel beneath the snow tires. Class over, I made my way back home, called my office to say that I wouldn’t be driving fifty miles to get there the next day, and settled in for the storm.

Mother Nature didn’t disappoint, as the winds picked up and the snow came down. The stretch of woods between my house and the road whipped back and forth in the wind like fronds of sea grass effortlessly tossed and pulled by ocean tides above. Some time during the evening, the thought occurred to me that if the power went out, water would be in short supply and so I filled the bathtub closest to the kitchen. Some time after than, I realized that if the power went out, I wouldn’t have heat either.

It was quite the conundrum, at first. I was already in my robe and slippers, in no mood to go outside for any reason. The man of my dreams was waiting the storm out twenty five miles away. Virtually all of the firewood we had split the winter before was sitting out in the garage, which is not attached to the house. It wasn't going to walk in to my living room by itself if I just said "bibbity, bobbity, boo!" Hauling it in would mean getting out of my fuzzy slippers, dressed and insulated like the Michelin man, cold, wind-swept, and dirty. But if the electricity went out, there went the power garage door opener. I doubted I’d have the strength to lift the door on my own. What finally sent me out to the garage was the prospect that if the power DID fail in the middle of the night, I’d be doing all of the above … while holding a flashlight in my teeth.

The fuzzy slippers came off, the work gloves came on, and eventually I hauled in enough dry wood to keep me warm for a full day. Then, with my cell phone and two flashlights on the nightstand beside me, I finally called it a night.

I tossed and turned to the sound of the wind rattling the windows all night. Then, finally, it was daybreak. The sixteen pound cat moved from his spot on the bed as my foot-warmer, and the dog started making “let me out” noises in the kitchen. I peeked out the window. The world was white. It seemed a good day to just stay indoors and stay in those fuzzy slippers. The best laid plans…

When I opened the door to let him out, we discovered that the drift in front of the door was deeper than the dog. And he is not a small dog. In fact, he’s approaching the size of a red wolf. Sigh. “C’mon, honey,” I wheedled. “Let’s go out!!” I waved my hand cheerily in the direction of the far side of the driveway, where the drifts were shorter and his tail feathers less likely to freeze. Lucky was having none of it. Two more cheery waves failed to move him any further from the warmth and safety of the carpet in the foyer. So once again I stepped out of the fuzzy slippers and suited up like the Michelin man, this time to blaze a trail for the pooch. Such are the responsibilities for the leader of the pack.

Stepping outside, all distinctions between patio and sidewalk and driveway and gardens were entirely obliterated, vanished like ancient ruins in the Sahara swallowed by shifting sands. Between house and garage were enormous, wind-sculpted waves of pure white, some as deep as my chest. Tree branches hung heavy under their burdens of snow. The sun shone brilliantly on this new world, reflecting off the shelf of white crystals that precariously overhung the living room window from the roofline above.

There was, of course, no way to travel anywhere. My tiny car has a ground clearance of about four and a half inches. I’ve made snowballs bigger than that. On a day like this one, the only thing to do is to wait for the local guy with the snowplow to show up, and keep yourself amused until then. It’s a rare day that I don’t find myself in my car driving somewhere. I complain often about the hefty number of miles I drive in a year … but I sometimes think that the feeling of the highway beneath my wheels would be a hard thing to go “cold turkey” on for any length of time.

Still, with no choice in the matter, I parceled out the day to do what needed to be done. My forays outside—to clear the front walk, take out the trash, shovel the back stairs—were punctuated with plenty of hot chocolate and the occasional episode of “Law and Order.” The nap on the sofa was entirely impromptu. Working from past experience, I knew enough to take a ski pole with me when navigating some of the deeper drifts to the back of the house. Lucky proved himself a good guide to finding the shallower stretches of snow, and I followed in his footsteps. The outdoor work finally done, I set to a writing project that was long overdue. There was solitude, and quiet, and—if you don’t count Lucky begging me over and over to throw a tennis ball for him in the kitchen—a great deal of peace to be had.

“Rescue” in the form of the snow plow finally arrived late in the afternoon, and in a matter of minutes, the familiar contours of my driveway reappeared, framed by vast mountains of snow. There was freedom. There was access. There was the ability to get in the car and … drive. At that exact moment, I really didn’t feel like it. I settled back into my favorite spot on the sofa, and flipped channels, a blanket over my lap.

The next day found me back in my usual groove. It was not a day where I had to drive to work, but still I put the key in the ignition and made my rounds like a hamster on a wheel. I picked up photographs, bought salt for the water softener, got some new printer cartridges, returned a DVD to the video store, bought stamps at the post office, mailed thank you notes, and took Lucky back and forth for a few hours of socializing at “doggie day care.”

All told, I accomplished a lot of the usual things. In very much the usual way. Nothing that will stand out in the tapestry of my life for any reason.

It makes me wistful, already, for that magical sea of white.

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