Monday, January 27, 2014

Warm Globally, Freeze Locally

Everybody’s talking about the snow and unusual cold this winter. The TV news just now reported that this is the coldest January "this century." Schools are closing because of the cold. University of Akron, where my wife Beth and I used to work, closed in advance for Monday and Tuesday. A friend who flies a lot has had challenges getting where he needs to go. Humor abounds about global warming; weather is not the same thing as climate change, but you hear plenty of bleak jokes like my subject heading.

Snow, with its potential to change the daily routine, drifts in our memories. What are your personal stories of snow, whether prosaic or exciting?

* I don’t remember the year, but during the mid 1960s, when I was in grade school, a foot or two of snow fell, and I experienced my first snow day! What bliss! I spent a good part of the day in both the front and back yards, building a snowman and flying my model space ships into the drifted snow. (The aliens were thus stranded into a snowy planet in a far galaxy.)

* I think about a winter day in the early 1970s when I was in junior high. I’d been visiting a friend how lived on Jefferson Street in my small hometown; he had the most impressive LP collection: Mountain, The Who, Black Oak Arkansas, Humble Pie, and others. His collection was “heavy,” in the slang of the time. I’m not sure why I walked home along the Illinois Central tracks--because the railroad was a bit out of the way--but maybe the snow along the streets was deep. I remember how cold the day was: minus 10 wind chill. When I came home, my mother made me hot chocolate.

* During the blizzard of the winter of 1978-79, a truck slid off I-70. I drove by after the accident; the trailer was on its side, and the cab was pointing straight up into the air. The driver must’ve had an adventure getting out. I could imagine a tow truck driver saying to him, "Well, there's yer problem!"

* A few years later, I drove my station wagon down the hill to the store to buy some snacks, and my car slid into a parked car, scraping the passenger-side door. Ever since, I’ve been superstitious about running errands in the snow: how essential is that, for instance, bag of pretzels? Can the trip wait?

* In 1994, a forecasted three-inch snow became sixteen inches, halting the routine in our community. Daughter Emily was not quite four, but she remembers playing in the snow that was, in drifted places, waist-deep for her. Of course we made a snow person!

* We lived in Flagstaff, AZ for a while, where the annual snowfall is about 100 inches. Snow was such a daily reality, but I remember the scary drives on I-17 from Flagstaff till about 40 minutes south, where the Mogollon Rim ended and the landscape descended into the lower and warmer elevations. Most of the drive to and from Phoenix was easy except for that winter weather along the rim.

* My daughter is one of the few people who doesn’t like Handel’s Messiah at all. We took her to two Friday evening concerts at Severance Hall in Cleveland in consecutive years--wonderful events, one featuring the coloratura Laura Claycomb and the baritone Sanford Sylvan. Unfortunately, in mid-December in northeast Ohio, snows can be unpredictable, so we drove back to Akron in frightening snowstorms both years we attended. Our attempts to introduce her to a beloved oratorio only gave it an association with dangerous weather conditions.

* Emily and I used to go sledding on our backyard hill in wintertime. Sometimes we speed all the way down; sometimes we get bogged down in heavy, wet snow and tumble over. When life gives you bad snow for sledding, make snow angels. I’m well into middle-age; I looked silly on a sled; I didn’t care.

I leaf through my Bible for references to the white stuff. Here are my two favorites. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! writes the psalmist (Ps. 148:7-8). In a similar vein, God asks Job rhetorically, Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail...? (Job 38:22)

No, Lord, we haven't...But we sure do see the results when those storehouses empty out!

(An updated post from 2010)

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