Like most people who have spent a chunk of time in cold, snowy climates, I have no shortage of stories about ice storms, snow storms, and frigid cold weather. In Buffalo, snowstorms are measured in feet, and continuous days of snow under seven don’t really count. I have driven to comedy club shows in what others would deem a blizzard, and I know what a sidewalk plow looks like. If it weren’t for the chaos created on my schedule, I would find it hysterically funny that many children living here, in Virginia, will be getting their third day off from school for two inches of snow and some sub-freezing temperatures. While I scoff, a part of me also yearns for those snowy days past. I pause tonight to remember what I learned from growing up in a rural town amid the snow belt of Western New York. There are some really valuable life lessons hidden among my treasured memories.
I was in first grade when the Blizzard of ’77 struck Buffalo. That storm still lives in people’s memories as if it happened yesterday. The Blizzard even became a popular board game, which is practically poetic. We were house bound for around 2 1/2 weeks that January. We had plenty of food because we squirreled away non-perishables and our own canned peaches, pears, beans, tomatoes, and grape juice all through the summer and fall. We had water to drink and to use when the pipes froze because we quickly filled all the metal canning kettles and roasting pans we could find with water and set them on the porch to freeze when we heard that the storm was brewing. When the taps wouldn’t work, we carried the frozen pots in and thawed our water on the wood stove that heated our little house. The worst part for me was dragging frozen firewood from the woodpile outside to the house, which I did grudgingly even with a metal sled to pull the wood on. It was a different time, and a different age. I learned somewhere deep down that I must always be prepared. No running to the stores for milk, bread, and eggs at the last minute (everyone wants French toast during a blizzard here in Virginia it seems). Instead, I learned to value slow, steady preparation across weeks and months. Squirrels know this instinctively, and we learned it, too. Blizzards were the ultimate test of endurance.
Blizzards also taught me that we are all a little crazy around the edges. OK, maybe “crazy” isn’t the best word to choose, but I want to get this point across. If you talk to birds outside your window as though they are people on an ordinary day of the year, others may deem you crazy. After 2 1/2 weeks where the same three people look at each other all day, I contend it’s perfectly fine to strike up conversation with a black-capped chickadee scavenging for the seed and suet left in the trees before the storm. Preferable, perhaps. In no small way, blizzards taught me we are all frayed around the edges, and we need to be able to take ourselves and each other lightly, and respectfully. Over my years of counseling and social working, I have learned that we are all much more empathetic people when we realize that none of us are are truly normal all the time. Put us in the crucible of a deep freeze and some will start to get angry, others withdrawn, others manic and giddy. We know to grant some space to each other but not lose sight of the core person we know is there in spite of the rough edges that start popping through. When we connect to the human race and see ourselves as all uniquely and beautifully frayed, we become less judgmental and more compassionate. We are capable of greater love.
It was in a blizzard that I remember sitting and pondering the deep meaning of life, the “why” and “how” of what makes us tick as human beings. In blizzards, I finished cross stitch projects and latch-hook rugs instead of abandoning them after start up. I read voraciously and transported myself to King Arthur’s court, or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie. If we were lucky and the mail came, spring bulb catalogs would fill us with joy, imagining the white tundra surrounding us on all sides spotted with bright yellow daffodils and fiery red tulips. It is an act of faith to believe that spring will come again under five feet of snow. It is divine grace and eternal mystery to find a purple crocus or pink hyacinth blooming through the snow, or pushing up sideways from under a snow bank or a tipped over flower pot. Magic and mystery are ever present in the glinting diamonds that form at dusk when freshly fallen snow meets moonbeams in the darkness. It is deep, beautiful, and soulful. I source my mysticism in the snows of winter, and I close my eyes and take in those images even now. These images are guardians of the sacred spaces in my soul.
Even our two inches of swirling snow holds some power over my mind and imagination tonight. I felt some righteous indignation today sitting in a meeting during a snowy day. Snow is so rare here. A typical day was too ordinary, too matter of fact. Snow beckons me to somewhere deeper and further in my soul. I couldn’t concentrate, and started wondering what some of my sacred spaces looked like on this snowy day. I began to picture the labyrinths I have walked this year dusted with snow, before I was called back into the here and now. These are my own beautiful, frayed edges showing through. I am happy, finally, sitting down to write this, looking out my window and see glinting, icy white against the night sky and hearing the passing crunch of icy snow beneath feet or wheels. Bliss.
If there was a chickadee nearby, I would tell her or him about this small point of light. And I know my bird friend would understand.