Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I had an epiphany this morning. (Not literally, at least I don't think so.) It's not so much cold that I like, as it is snow. I mean, I do prefer cold to hot. (There's a limit to how many clothes you can take off.) And I do like the feel of the cool/cold air. I almost feel the blowing of the Spirit in a brisk autumn wind. But snow! I don't know what it is exactly. I don't particularly care for driving in it, but then, I'm not a big fan of driving under any circumstances. In fact, that might be some of it.

I like how enough snow can bring some of our human busyness to a halt. No matter how gently it falls, snow has a way of forcing itself into our lives. You go to sleep one night, and by morning this silent intruder has closed your workplace, trapped your car, and given you manual labor to perform. And although I might have been able to find better ways to spend my evenings when I was growing up than shoveling from the time I got home until well after dark, I now appreciate the opportunity. It probably helps that we live in a warmer climate, where snow isn't quite so frequent or overwhelming, and in a complex, where all I have to shovel is our parking space. I spend my days at a desk, call the landlord when something breaks in the apartment, take the car to a mechanic when it needs work, and let someone else handle the landscaping. Shoveling snow is one of the few manual tasks I have left. It's a chance to find God in the exertion; and I must say, I'm also gratified that my son likes to shovel, even if it does mean I have to go out and stand in the cold and wet while he throws around whatever slushy muck can pass for snow most of the time around here.

But today is different. We've had seriously cold weather the past few days (a necessary ingredient for good snow). This morning I got out for my 5:00 a.m. bus before the cleanup crews arrived. It had that satisfying crunch under my feet, and the occasional slip on unseen ice patches. The world was just a bit muffled from its usual noise, and the flakes reflected the light of the street lamps. My usual walk to the bus stop takes me through what can lightly be described as woods. One nice thing about Columbia is that it has a network of walking paths throughout most of the villages, some of which do a pretty good job of avoiding roads. There's one that runs along a little creek beside our complex. If you follow it one way, it takes you over a footbridge and up the bank to the street. It's a bit shorter going that way than if you walked out the driveway of the complex; plus, there's no sidewalk going all the way to the road, so it's a bit safer. You pass through some trees along the way--not nearly enough to hide the buildings, especially without their leaves in winter, but enough that you can barely imagine.

If you follow the path the other way, it follows the stream through trees and behind houses, over a few footbridges, and eventually over a hill, to a small, man-made lake. It takes about 20 minutes (at a brisk pace) to get there and another 20 or so to walk around the lake, so it's a good hour's walk, without crossing a single street. (That's not quite true--the path around the lake isn't continuous, and there are a couple of points where you have to go up to the sidewalk on the other side of the houses. In one case, I think you could take a longer way around the end of a cul-de-sac, but I usually just cut across.) It's my default route when I get the chance. I really wanted to head that way this morning. Looking down the path, I could almost imagine a Russian monastery somewhere at the other end.

But going to work could have been worse. At least I didn't have to drive in the stuff. I had a nice, quiet wait at the first stop--got there a bit early because I wasn't sure what to expect with the snow, and the bus was a bit late. I'm usually the only one there anyway, and I had a chance to watch the snow fall. The walk across campus wasn't too bad either--more activity, more traffic, and six inches of salt on the sidewalk (an annoying feel under your feet) but the snow was still there. It gave me some time to gradually return to "reality," before walking into my building where someone was running an obnoxiously loud machine. Ah, industry!

The snow has stopped now, and the sky is clearing. Here, anyway, you can still see the grass peeking through, so it can't be more than an inch or two. It still looks nice, though--a little bit of frosting on the trees. They're calling for a high of 25 degrees, so hopefully it will stick around for a while.

I remember a couple of years ago, walking to find the Middle Patuxent River--the closest significant body of water that isn't man-made--just so I could watch it go by and know I was looking at something that hadn't been manufactured--something that could almost be called "natural." The nice thing about snow is that it comes to me. It's God breaking into our human existence to remind us that he still rules the universe. I concluded a long time ago that the problem with driving around here (well, one of the problems) is that people don't get their place in creation. Further north, where snow is more ubiquitous, you just know that you'll have to adjust. You can't drive like you would on bare pavement, and sometimes you can't drive at all. It's just part of life. Here, when it snows people seem to do one of two things--either they drive as if nothing has changed, or they act like the world is coming to an end. Both endanger themselves and others, and both miss the point. Yes, one day God will come in judgment, and although I suppose perhaps snow will play some role in that, I don't think it's mentioned in the Bible. But here and now, he's looking for us to wake up and notice that he exists, and that that makes a difference in our lives. Snow is one of his gentler reminders of that presence.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

Not that anyone's likely to read here by this point, but as a great follow-up, there's a column on snow that appeared in USA Today.