Southern Snow

By Woodward, Nancy Hatch | Southern Cultures, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview
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Southern Snow


Woodward, Nancy Hatch, Southern Cultures


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My daughters were born in Tampa, Florida, which meant they had never seen snow. This deprivation changed when we moved to Chatham, Virginia, in time for the worst snowstorm the area had seen in over sixty years. If that hadn't given us our share of snow, we moved to Chattanooga the following year, where, in January, it snowed ten inches, the most snow seen in the town since 1960.

There is something so soothing about snow, after the initial excitement passes. Now, I'm speaking as a Deep South southerner who rarely gets the chance to enjoy this winter spectacular. I have no illusions about how cranky I would be if I had to live with it for months at a time.

Here in Chattanooga we do snow dances and pray for just enough of the white stuff to let children and mischievous teenagers build snow men, women, and couples in remarkably distasteful embraces. When the snow starts falling, we have two immediate rituals: first, we run outside, turn our faces toward the heavens, and let the flakes tickle our cheeks and stuck-out tongues. This delightfully childish moment doesn't last long. We must rush to the grocery store to stock up on bread, milk, and soup, because if there is any significant accumulation--anything more than about two inches--everything in town will come to a complete standstill. The schools, stores, city government, and every business and daycare will dose, given that the roads will be unfit for travel.

People from other parts of the country think we don't drive on wintry roads because we are all a bunch of hayseeds who don't know how to drive in these conditions, but they couldn't be more wrong. Lack of experience has never stopped anyone I know from venturing forth as soon as possible. In fact, you can just about guarantee that people with the least experience and the most machismo will be on the roads first. Which is exactly why the rest of us stay at home.

We also stay off the roads and close down the town because we really don't get any other chance to take a break from life. Snow days are important to people's sanity. They give you a day without your regular to-do list. You can't run errands; you can't go in to work; it's too dangerous to drive over to see your mother; and you don't dare clean house because everyone is going to be traipsing in and out, bringing in ice and mud. You can simply relax and enjoy the day.

The English writer John Ruskin wrote that "Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." That's the way I like to think about snow--just another form of good weather.

When the snow started that night in Chatham, we had the floodlights on outdoors and stood mesmerized at the window on the second floor of our house. It was as though a prism had been shattered in the sky, and the shards were raining down. They seemed to dance as they passed through the spotlight and came to a quiet landing in the meadow behind the house. I kept thinking about how each of those little crystals would bond to form something so much greater than their own individual parts--creating something that caused us mere mortals to momentarily escape our lulled existence and enter into a sphere of holy wonder. Watching this sight made me wonder: Is that what we are here for? Are we individual flecks of something much greater than ourselves--God, perhaps? Like snowflakes, do we dance to our destiny with each other?

Snow brings a special quality with it, the power to stop life as you know it dead in its tracks. There is nothing you can do but give in to the moment at hand--what I call the Zen of snow. A snowstorm reminds us that we really have no control over so much of our lives. It stops the world around you and shakes you out of the have-tos, freeing you into why-nots, such as grabbing the tops of those big plastic trash cans to use as make-shift sleds; cozying up next to the fireplace and reading that book that has been on your nightstand for weeks now; teaching your children how to build a snow fort and giving them tips for aiming those snowballs right at Dad's head.

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