During my teaching days, I always enjoyed doing with my classes John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1866 narrative poem “Snowbound: A Winter Idyl,” a poem inspired by the poet’s childhood recollections of a snowstorm on his family’s farm just outside Haverhill, Massachusetts. The family, safe and warm inside, enjoy the serenity that comes with such an event as they sit before the hearth while winds howl and snow piles up during the two-day snowstorm that New Englanders like my Boston born-and-bred father would call a nor’easter.
Well, last month we had our own two-day Buckeye version of a nor’easter, which truncated my typical five-day work week, leaving me snowbound on Thursday and Friday. With Level 3 road conditions, only the very essential workers ventured out. Of course, taking the occasional snow day isn’t new for me if you consider the 50 years I was expected to report to schools either as a student or the teacher.
As a child of the 1960s, I remember a time when weather-related school closings were rare and, therefore, more exciting. On such days, I was thrilled by the opportunity to head out to earn some spending jingle shoveling some driveways, something far more enjoyable than trying, often unsuccessfully, to uncover the mysteries of fractions.
By the time I began my teaching career, my attitude certainly changed about snow days. Truth be told, I hated them. For my guys and gals, there were simply too many papers to be written, literature to be studied and grammar and vocabulary to be learned to lose time any of the 180 days I was allotted to instruct them.
Now, however, since I haven’t stood before a class since late May of 2005, I must admit, Landon, the name given the storm by The Weather Channel, wasn’t all that bad. So, how did I spend the extra time at home since I couldn’t get to my work accounts? On Thursday, when the storm was in full force, to ensure the shovelfuls of white stuff I was relocating wouldn’t tax this septuagenarian, I shoveled the driveway five times throughout the day. In between, I sat before my own hearth, this one different than the one Whittier remembered, since it was gas-fueled. While I think it provided the same warmth, of course the hiss and crackle and the aroma Whittier recollects were lost to me.
That last shoveling, close to 8 p.m., was when the winds were picking up. I knew with the overnight drifting, there’d be a final shoveling needed Friday morning before the storm’s predicted end. The porch and street lights were on, reassuring signs that the grid was holding up, and the artificial light illuminated several inches of snow, making a nocturnal shoveling seem diurnal.
The next morning while completing my final shoveling, I took note of the beauty of what had fallen for the past 36 hours, accentuated by the backdrop of a deep blue sky and shafts of sunbeams that belied the brisk temperatures. After the last shovelful, I looked back up the driveway, feeling the same sense of satisfaction I get in the summer when I finish mowing. The small ridges of snow that showed my shoveling passes were the winter equivalent of mower wheels on freshly mowed greensward. Despite the cessation of falling snow, the drifts on the yet-to-be-plowed Tall Oaks Avenue told me it would be a while before I’d be going anywhere.
So, my second day was the perfect time to do what I think many of you did, cook and eat comfort food. For me, a decent cook although surely not Emeril Lagasse, I constructed a huge pot of chili, a pot of shredded chicken, a big frying pan of hash browns and also made homemade salsa. All of my creations required a lot of dicing. For reasons I can’t fully explain, I love chopping as much as any sous-chef you’re likely to find.
While dicing away, I looked out the window where squirrels were doing some highly entertaining polar plunges through drifts, foraging acorns before scurrying up onto tree branches to devour their finds.
After my kitchen efforts, there was time for dusting, the kind where I actually take items off the shelves, time for vacuuming, time for reading and time for writing this column. And, there was even time by day’s end to finish an entire bag of Bugles, thereby proving snow days should include some frivolous indulgences.
There was also time to watch some Olympics coverage, the curling event.
After one competitor deftly slid one of those polished granite stones down the ice towards the bull’s-eye, a teammate swept, sometimes furiously, to try to affect how far the stone slid. For some reason, I found the event fascinating, I think because, unlike so many other winter sports that require preternatural athletic ability, this I think I could do. I was so inspired, I actually leapt to my feet and began sweeping the kitchen floor!
At any rate, while I was happy to rejoin the working world, feeling so very fortunate at my age I can still work full time, I did have fond memories of my own winter idyl, one that occurred over a century and a half after John Greenleaf Whittier wrote of his.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.