Falling in the snow, not a metaphor

by Brian Clarey

Just past dusk on Sunday night the rain that had been pelting my house and yard, that had frozen into icy stalactites on my rain gutters and the bare tree limbs, crystallized into snowflakes big as cotton balls drifting past the streetlights. I cursed them, as I always do. My distaste for snow is fairly well documented. I grew up shoveling the nasty stuff from driveways and sidewalks every winter, watching clumps of it in parking lots and roadsides collect soot and sludge until spring’s first thaw, feeling it work its icy, wet way into the tops of my boots and the cuffs of my jacket. I have less than fond memories of winter’s miracle. And snowfall… in North Carolina… in March… well, the prospect does not exactly fill me with good cheer. But there was something in the air Monday morning — a sense of quietude, a palpable smell, something — that took me back, not to those bitter mornings of shoveling neighborhood driveways, or the numbing shock of an iceball strike to the ear, or the terrible fear of a car sliding through an icy intersection, all of which I have known. No, that morning as I ingested my first dose of nicotine of the day I took a look around and liked what I saw. The neighborhood was silent and the physical quality of the air around me had changed. It was bright and alive; sound and light behaved differently. The street in front of my house was as of yet untrammeled and the pristine grounds of my long quarter acre seemed like the unspoiled surface of a cloud. Snow clung like lace to the bare tree branches at the periphery of the neighborhood, hung like a cloak on the long-leaf pines and nestled into the kudzu vines near the creek. A light wind swept crystalline dust from the rooftops that glinted in the morning sunlight. Inside the house, the children prepared for their first real snow day ever, with enough of the stuff they wouldn’t have to debate between making a snowman, swishing angels into the ground or sledding down the 45-degree incline in the backyard. And I remembered in a rush the glorious snow days of my youth, of long walks down deserted streets to the sledding grounds at the county courthouse or, a bit further on, the golf course at the center of town. I remembered ice skating on a converted tennis court at a village park and learning how to skid to a stop like a hockey player. I remembered vicious and satisfying snowball fights and forts dug out of snow drifts; I remembered trudging through our transformed yard with my sisters and eating icicles knocked from the eaves of our house. I remembered building a snowman in a large field across the street, so big he lasted until spring. I remembered sipping hot chocolate with marshmallows, rosy-cheeked and runny-nosed, while my boots, stuffed with rolled-up newspaper, dried out by the radiator. I watched my own children layering their sweatshirts, putting on a bunch of socks, pulling winter gear out from the depths of our hall closet. I envied them, and I allowed that maybe, just maybe, my recollections of winters past were not entirely accurate. I wore this reverie up until I disembarked from the house to go to work — no snow day for me. I remained attuned to the natural beauty the snow had evoked in my neighborhood, the glaring interplay of light on the flat, white surfaces, the satisfying crunch of the snow under my boots —

Everything looks and sounds so clear! And then, about halfway down my driveway — which, like the backyard, carries a roughly 45-degree slope — I got the wind knocked out of me. I mean this quite literally. As I made my way down to Jordan Green’s snowdusted red Kia, parked in the street in front of my house, I managed to offend the forces of gravity. There is a key difference to collected snow in North Carolina and the way it was in New York when I was growing up: In North Carolina, a lot of times, there is a solid layer of ice beneath the snow. What happened to me Monday morning, as best I can figure, is that as I traversed the 45 degree surface, the snow packed tight under the heels of my boots and, encountering no friction from the ice sheath underneath, caused my feet to accelerate forward in a rapid and uncompromising manner. I landed squarely on the small of my back with, I imagine, both of my feet sticking straight up in the air. The hot cup of coffee I was holding, fortunately, spilled mostly on my clothes and into the snow instead of in my face where it would undoubtedly have caused further discomfort. And the only one to see it was Green, who was polite enough not to break out laughing until a couple hours later. I spent Monday in production, wishing I had one of those inflatable ring cushions for my aching ass and looking out the window at the slowly melting snow, which I blame for my first driveway ice flop since like 1983. And yet I can’t get too upset, even though my lower back feels like it has been bashed with a sledgehammer, because I can’t help but think what my kids would have thought had they seen their curmudgeonly father take the wipeout of the year right there in our driveway: They would have loved it. And they would have remembered it forever.