Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mental coolant

As the mercury starts to climb in many parts of the US (where I am it's 92 but "feels like 97" according to the Weather Channel), I think a handful of last winter's snow—which showed up in 49 states—might come in handy.  One train of thought leading to another, I recalled an incredible essay I came across on the great blizzard of 1888 called “New York under the Snow” by Jose Marti. A revolutionary poet, educator, children's writer, art and literary critic, and journalist from Cuba, Marti began to write what became his North American Scenes during a 15-year exile in New York City. This vivid and compassionate excerpt appeared in Writing New York: A Literary Anthology.
After the first surprise of the dawn, people find ways to adjust their clothing so the fury of the tempest will not do them so much harm. There is an overturned wagon at every step; a shade, hanging from its spring, flaps against the wall like the wing of a dying bird; an awning is torn to ribbons; a cornice dangles from its wall; an eave lies in the street. Walls, hallways, windows are all banked with snow. And the blizzard blows without respite, piling up drifts, scattering destruction, whistling and howling. And men and women keep walking with the snow to their armpits.
One has made a mask of silk from his umbrella, with two holes for the eyes, and another for the mouth, and thus, with his hands behind his back, he cuts his way through the wind. Others have tied stockings over their shoes, or bags of salt, or wrapping paper, or strips of rubber, fastened with twine. Others protect themselves with leggings, with fur caps; another, half dead, is being carried, wrapped in his buffalo-hide overcoat. "Sir," pleads the voice of a child, who cannot be seen for the snow, "help me out of here, I am dying. It is a messenger boy whom some heartless employer has sent out in this storm. There are many on horseback; one, who came out in a sled, is carried away with it at the first gust, and nearly loses his life. A determined old lady, who set out to buy a wreath of orange blossoms for her daughter's marriage, loses the wreath to the wind. Night fell over the arctic waste of New York, and terror took over. The postman on his round fell face down, blinded and benumbed, protecting his leather bag with his body. Families trapped in the roofless houses sought madly and in vain to find a way out through the snow-banked doors. When water hydrants lay buried under five feet of snow, a raging fire broke out, lighting up the snowy landscape like the Northern Lights, and swiftly burned three apartment houses to the ground. The fire wagons arrived! The firemen dug with their hands, and found the hydrant. The walls and the snowy street were scarlet, and the sky was blue velvet. Although the water they played against the flames was hurled back in their faces in stinging pellets by the fury of the wind, although the tongues of crimson flame leaped higher than the cross on the church steeple, although the wind-tossed columns of smoke bearing golden sparks singed their beards, there, without giving an inch, the firemen fought the fire with the snow at their breasts, brought it under control, and vanquished it. And then, with their arms, they opened a path for the engine through the snow.
Whew! Here's a book suggestion if you're also seeking "something cool": The Arctic: The Complete Story. It's got glaciers galore, as well as stunning photos of animals and birds that make their home in this frigid zone. Also, if you have any blizzard adventures, we'd love to hear about them!

5 comments:

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  2. that is a lovely excerpt. it definitely makes me blush at all the complaining i did this last winter. maryland was a tropical paradise in comparison!

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  3. Last winter, when I was taking my corgi Tyler for a walk at night, he must have noticed a fox or some other critter and he ran off after it. Unfortunately, his leash wasn't as strong as his will and it actually snapped. I searched and searched for my Tyler for hours, but I couldn't find him anywhere. I woke up the next morning to find that there were nine inches of snow outside. Running outside in my pj's and boots, I undertook an aggressive search for my doggy.

    As I struggled to find clues to his whereabouts, I was bombarded by terrible thoughts of a shivering Tyler with icicles on his paws. Many cold hours passed by without any sign of him. I decided to stop inside a 7-11 to find out if the worker inside had seen my pooch, but I noticed something odd that I had to investigate-- in the parking lot, there was a large plastic trashcan resting on top of a mound of snow, and it began to bark! It was Tyler! Although he had some snow on his snout, he was in good shape. Right after we got back home, I made sure to order the strongest leash I could find!

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  4. Oh wow, was he inside the upside-down trashcan?

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  5. I can't imagine a snow like that!! I also felt silly for whining about Maryland's winter. Then again, it's not yet summer and I'm done with heat!! Also, kudos to Tyler the Corgi for being tougher than most of us!!

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