Rain Day

Snow days — those make sense here in South Carolina. Most municipalities don’t have the equipment to clear snow properly and effectively. Add to it the lack of general experience drivers here have with snow and it’s fairly obvious why everything shuts down. The snow starts falling in the morning on a school day, and everyone realizes it’s likely only a matter of time before the announcement. At our school, it’s usually something like this: “Teachers, please check your email.” And there we find the procedures we will follow for early dismissal.

Rain, though? I remember there was a kid in the apartment complex we lived in when I was in kindergarten whose mother would keep him home if it rained, but I thought that was a one-time thing, an exception. Today, I found otherwise. By the end of fifth period today, probably a third of the school had already gone home. Early dismissal. To be fair to parents, there was supposed to be a horrible storm passing through: flash flooding, potential tornadoes. Nothing to take lightly. But what ended up happening was so much less dramatic: a few parents began taking their kids out of school, and every other kid, realizing the possibility, texted home. Probably something like this: “Everyone else is going home. Come get me — please!” And soon, there were so many parents waiting to pick up their kids that instead of calling individual classrooms as with the standard procedure, general announcements echoed through the school.

“Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen names. Five minutes later, “Will the following students please come to the office for early dismissal,” and then ten, twelve, fifteen more names.

Later in the afternoon, an apologetic email from the principal: “I understand that very little teaching can take place due to the announcements,” it began. But what was to be done?

I sent a text to K during lunch: “L is going to be sad because she didn’t get early dismissal. Kids are leaving here in swarms.” Something along those lines. K texted back: “I’m at home with the Boy. He had early dismissal, too. We’re going for L soon.”

And so what do you do with an unexpectedly free afternoon, that rarest of all gifts?

There was a movie, of course. The latest from Netflix, another Studio Ghibli film, Pom Poko. (We as a family have grown to love those films. Not a bad one in the bunch.)

There was a bit of playing, of course. The Boy can find entertainment anywhere. Just add some cars and he’s set.

And K finally got some time to work on a project that’s been haunting us for years: pictures for our living room and kitchen. What to include? How to arrange them? What, sadly, to leave out?

Tomorrow, everything goes back to normal, but only for two days as we near Easter and spring break.

First Snow 2017

Like most snow storms in the South, this one was the talk of news and neighbors for almost a week before it hit. The possibility of snow grew into the certainty of snow, and the depth of that certain snow increased as well. By the time I went to bed, meteorologists were predicting six inches for our area. That’s like three feet of snow in northern climes — something of note.

The kids grew increasingly excited as the projected storm’s intensity promised to be greater and greater. E was squealing on a regular basis Friday night with excitement about the impending snow.

What we got in our area was somewhat more restrained, though. Probably an inch, maybe an inch and a half, of icy, hard snow greeted us this morning. The Boy was ready to go, though.

“I’m going to eat half a bagel for breakfast, then get dressed, then check the street, then go to R’s house.” By nine, he was out. Shortly after that, the Girl joined him. Shortly after that, the neighborhood joined them.

In the afternoon, with such a gorgeous blue sky, we had to go for a walk, and with the roads clearing, we decided to go to Conestee Park. Wearing his gum boots, the Boy had to walk through as many puddles as possible, and both of the kids had to grab, fling, kick, and toss every bit of snow possible. The result: two wet, tired kids. Exhausted.

Until we arrived back at the house and saw the neighborhood kids sledding. Amazing what that will do for one’s energy.

Snow Day 2016, Part 2

Another day off school, another typical Greenville County Schools snow day — not a bit of snow visible in our part of the county, but apparently enough snow in the north portions of the county to render things unsafe. And so we kept ourselves occupied today in a variety of ways — details when you mouse-over.

Snow Day 2016

We don’t get much snow here in the South. Even an inch is enough to disrupt everything. We do get a lot more ice, I think. Even then, the slightest little bit makes the news. This morning, for example, a news caster commented on the fact that there were icicles on the trees, “And they don’t fall off when I shake the branch.” No joke.

Still, when we get a little snow, or even a little ice that is masquerading as snow, we make the most of it.

Historic Storm

It’s supposed to be a historic storm, despite the fact that forecasters on the television have been calling a historical storm. That’s inevitable once we stop living through it and start looking back at it. When we woke this morning, the application of the adjective “historic” was still unwarranted.

In fact, it remained that way until the afternoon. The snow fell all day, but it was a fine snow that accumulated slowly.

We went out in it, sledded in it, walked in it (day and night), rolled in it, threw it. And I recorded two or three videos. Which are still on the camera hard drive.

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Sounds of Pax

The falling snow, now turning to ice, pelts my face and creates a chaotic rhythm on my jacket.

As I head down the driveway, I hear the familiar crunch of ice underfoot, and immediately I am again taken back to the streets of Nowy Targ, the alleyways of Krakow, the walkway to my school in Lipnica.

I head to the back door so I can leave all my wet clothes in the basement, kicking the snow off my boots just before entering.

Sounds I haven’t heard in ages. Music that takes me back in time.

Snow Day 2014 Redux

It was supposed to be a three-punch storm. The first swing was Monday afternoon: nothing spectacular. Some rain with ice in it, nothing much to be thrilled with. When we went to bed last night, I wasn’t expecting much. Officials had called off school, but they do that at the whisper of icy weather, so that meant little to me.

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In the morning, the second part rolled through. It began accumulating quickly, in the front yard, on the back porch, and I thought, “Perhaps something will come of this.”

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But as the snow continued falling, the accumulation actually decreased in the backyard. The snow on the deck slowly disappeared and the yard itself turned into a mud bank.

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Of course that was not enough to keep us from diving into the white front yard, L eager to build a snowman (“Babciu, dasz mi marchewka?”) and the Boy running about screaming “Bubbles! Bubbles!” The Girl teamed with young W from up the street, and the two of them made a little snowdrawf. Or snowman-ish-blob, which intrigued the Boy. Seeing the small sticks for arms, he pulled one out and began yelling, “Tick! Tick!” It means both “stick” and “outside,” for he goes to the door, often enough with coat in hand, and proclaims “Tick! Tick!” whenever he wants to go outside.

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L was initially upset with the Boy’s obsession: he pulled out the carrot nose, ripped out the snowman-ish-blob’s right arm, and knocked one or two Sweet-Gum-seed-ball teeth out.

“Tick! Tick!”

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Soon, however, attention turned to snowballs, and the snowman-ish-blob suddenly was not nearly as intriguing.

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Yet nothing can hold their attention forever, and the last attraction was the sled a neighbor kindly made for L. Anyone with any sledding experience would have been able to tell L that three inches — max — of slushy snow is just not enough for sledding. But it’s one of the many things one has to learn for oneself from experience. They tried a few different variations before realizing the futility of it.

“Maybe tomorrow, when there’s more snow.”

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It is supposedly more than a possibility; it is a certainty. “A historical storm,” local weather forecasters have said. “Historic,” I’ve said under my breath, thinking, “It’s not historical until it’s history.”

“We’re going to be talking about this storm for years to come,” they say. Provided it’s the six to twelve inches, it will be great; if the ice comes along with it, well, let’s just hope it doesn’t happen.

Pre-Snow Day 2014

Having grown up in the South, I was amazed and enchanted with all the snow I encountered in southern Poland during my first winter there. “Snow” is a frequent word in my journal during that period. In January 1997, just six months after arriving, I wrote,

It has begun snowing steadily this morning, and the wind is making the snow fall at quite an angle, greater than forty-five degrees at times (or less, if you use the ground as a point of reference). The flakes are very large and wet, and they coat my jacket with white when I walk.

In Bristol snow never stays on the ground for longer than a few days. There might be spots of snow in heavily shaded areas, but not the continual blanket of Lipnica. The temperature is consistently below zero, so old snow remains as a foundation for the occasional flurries. Yet despite the amount of snow on the ground, it really hasn’t snowed that frequently. The bulk of the snow now on the ground is from two heavy snow falls, and it hasn’t done much more than flurry since then.

Heavy snow that stays on the ground for weeks, below-zero days, hoar frost, zero at the bone — all these things were relatively new experiences for me.

Later in the month, I continued:

It is snowing, and has been since Tuesday night. Something like four to six inches has fallen, and I love it. The wind blows fiercely and the wet flying snow makes me have to look down anytime I go out. It’s a storm by my standards, but probably only an average snow fall in Poland. It will give me something to talk about back home. “You call this a storm?”

Over the years, though, the snow lost its novelty. Snow everywhere for weeks on end soon became as much a hindrance as a blessing. I knew I’d fully lost my fascination with snow when, walking to midnight Mass one Christmas with K and her aunt, I found myself overwhelmingly annoyed with the sound of shoes crunching and squeaking on the ice and snow.

Then K and I moved to the States, ultimately ending up in South Carolina, where snow is as much a rarity as ninety-degree weather in K’s Polish hometown. Snow became a blessing again, but it is so rare. And so every winter, we wait in anticipation that we might get just a touch of snow.

Today in school, after the first two periods, when eighth grade students were heading off to their various third period related arts classes, the teachers spoke in a hush.

“Mr. M said we’re going to be releasing at twelve today.”

But it was all in anticipation of the storm bearing down on the South. It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced an in-expectation snow day: several years ago, when we lived in Asheville, schools closed the day Babcia was supposed to arrive, also in expectation of a mother-of-all storms. That one never materialized, though. So today I was a little skeptical of the whole prognosis as we got the kids through lunch and hustled out to their buses. I arrived at home around two, and nothing.

Finally the snow started falling, but the flakes were so small that they were difficult to see, and after fifteen minutes, only the lightest of dusting covered the table and chairs on the deck.

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“Can we go outside?” L asked, eager to play in the snow and checking the window periodically.

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“Can we have a snowball fight? Can we build a snowman?” L has had so little experience with snow that she can’t understand the amount of snow a simple snowball needs. She has no idea the difference between wet snow and dry snow and the impossibility of making snowballs and snowpeople from the latter.

The Boy, having been in Poland last January, has much more experience with snow. The only problem is, he doesn’t remember it. So he too was fascinated with the white powder on our back deck.

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L and the Boy returned to their cartoons, and finally the snow became significant, hiding the glass under its less-slight dusting and making significant inroads with the chairs.

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Close, but not enough.

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Finally, the Girl could stand it no longer. “Daddy, I’m going out!” And off she went, searching for snow to eat and a patch large enough to ball into a projectile.

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I got the Boy and headed out shortly after. After marching about the yard for a while, he began scooping swirls of snow, leaves, and dirt in the backyard.

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L on the other hand was working on a collection of snow in the cat’s outside bowl.

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Once K arrived and we’d stuffed ourselves with chili (what else to eat in such weather?), the four of us handed out for a family walk. The sun had set but the night was still bright with the sparse snow and gray sky reflecting street lights, and the stroller’s wheels crunched in the snow: surely everyone who saw us thought us mad. Our stroll took us to the edge of our neighborhood, into a parking lot of a small corporate office. The Boy was convinced it was “babbas,” a gigantic manifestation of the bubbles in his bath that have become a highlight of his day. He ran in the snow, occasionally calling “babbas!” The Girl chased him, chased K, chased me, obsessively calling, “You’re it!”

So much joy from just a dusting of snow. Only finding out we could do it all again tomorrow made it better.

#4 — Goodness and Will

Good which is done in this way, almost in spite of ourselves, almost shamefacedly and apologetically, is pure. All absolutely pure goodness completely eludes the will. Goodness is transcendent. God is Goodness.

It started with a few, hard flakes that looked more like ice pellets than anything else. Perhaps it was ice. But I didn’t worry: it was good no matter what it was. I strolled back into the house and calmly told the girls, “You won’t believe what’s happening: it’s snowing.” Within a few minutes, the flakes were fat and heavy, a wet snow that accumulated quickly despite the relatively warm weather. L and I changed our afternoon swimming plans and got dressed as quickly as we could, both excited about the prospect of snow. By the time we made it outside, the flakes were enormous and plentiful, and I found myself watching both the snow and the Girl’s excitement with the snow.

Living in South Carolina, snow is such an unpredictable goodness. It’s so rare it can only be counted as a good: at most, it might disrupt traffic for a little while; it could close the school system down for a day or two; but even the most sour, pessimist in the Upstate must smile a bit to see the occasional snow.

Yet it’s so unpredictable. We can literally go for years without any snow, apparently. Every winter, we wonder: will there be snow this winter> Well, at least I wonder, K wonders, the Girl wonders.

First moments outside

First moments outside

I stood there today, though, marveling at the difference between our Upstate winter reality and that of southern Poland. Here, the question is whether nor not it will snow; there, the questions are when the first snow will come, how long it will last, and if it will melt completely before the next snow falls. There, the first snow fall is just the promise of more, just a whisper of what’s to come. Here, it’s the promise, the whisper, and the whole story.

Muddy snowball

Muddy snowball

Sometimes I wonder what it might be like to live in such a place with my family. Perhaps with that much snow, the Girl would come to take it for granted. Is that even possible? Can a child ever grow tired of making snowballs, of digging snow forts, of sledding?

And what of the good, the transcendent good that eludes the will? Perhaps sometimes that good comes from an unexpected change in the weather, a sprinkling of white in an otherwise gray afternoon.

“Sledding”

We live in the South: two things we do not have but would have come in handy this week:

  1. Snow shovel
  2. Sled

The former is easily enough fixed. A good square-point shovel gets the job done, albeit very slowly. The latter took some thinking. Eventually we settled on a design: enormous Zip-Lock bags encasing a few carefully folded blankets. It’s soft; it’s durable; it slides — almost.

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It needs a little motivation to go the first few times — a little momentum from an old body that now cringes looking at this picture. Still, for the good of God, country, sledding, and all that.

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K has a bit more success, but Baby, strapped to a paper plate, glides along the frozen snow like a pro.

L herself, though, is a little more reluctant. She needs a few more observational sessions to get comfortable with the idea of sliding down ice on a pile of blankets tucked in a bag. (Would a proper sled allay her fears any?)

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In the end, the most fun for L is “cleaning” the streets: taking large chunks of frozen snow she finds and breaking them gleefully.

“I’m helping our neighbors,” she explains in utmost seriousness, dumping another load of snow back into the road as she talks. “It’s hard work.” And wet.

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So is hauling a heavy chunk of growing girl up and down the icy streets on an improvised sleigh, but like L, K doesn’t complain.

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Hard is sometimes a pleasure.

Snow Day(s) 2011, Day 2

A snow day was always an unexpected blessing when I was growing up. They were so rare that it was hard believe it when they actually occurred. As a teacher, I’ll admit that one snow day a year is just about the best thing that can happen. I know that we’ve lost a make up day, but three are built into the school calendar — not a big price to pay. Having two snow days gets to be irritating. Having three is simply annoying. After that, we’re in the hole: we have to make them up some other way.

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So while the first day is all fun and games — playing in the snow, taking walks, just enjoying the snow.

I went for a walk, watching how Southerners drive in the snow, wondering where such misplaced confidence comes when they have so little experience driving in such conditions. At least one individual seemed to think that because he had a SUV normal rules of physics didn’t apply to him.

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Others thought that somehow the laws of physics increased their stringency in icy conditions, barely going much faster than I walked. The majority managed to meet some happy medium.

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Others were enjoying what the drivers were avoiding. “A day with dry, powdery snow does not present the best condition for a sled with runners,” I wanted to tell them. They were figuring it out for themselves, though.

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As I trudged through the snow, I thought of all the countless walks I took in the snow while living in Poland. I was enchanted every winter: snow on the ground for weeks, months at a time. In the South, we’re lucky if it stays for a couple of days (the present conditions excepted). My first year in Polska, there was snow on the ground from early December to March. I went for a walk almost every day, exploring just how deep the snow in the fields could be in mid-January, after several snow falls.

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Tramping around with a camera brought about some wonderfully nostalgic moments. My whole story of my photographic hobby unfolded in my memory: I arrived in Poland with a point-and-shoot Canon and quickly bought my first SLR — a Russian Zenit (Зени́т‚ in Russian), a solid, heavy metal-bodied camera with a manual focus and manual metering. I learned more about photography wrestling with that beast than I’ve learned since.

I continued my walk to the main street of our hamlet and slipped into an open CVS. By the door, the Southern storm staple: bread.

“Did you put that out for the storm?” I ask as I pay for the lighters I bought.

“I don’t think so,” replied the attendant. “But I didn’t work this weekend. I can’t remember if we had it out last time I worked.”

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As I headed back home, I saw a fitting message.

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Everyone had taken it to heart: the streets were virtually empty.

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“Who would get out in this mess when there’s no where to go?” I muttered to myself. The whole state shut down yesterday: schools, state offices, everything but the DMV and their salt/brine-spreading, snow plowing devices.

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In the meantime, we kept ourselves busy.

Snow Day 2011

Sunday was clear — sunny, with a blue sky and the cool air typical of a Southern winter. The storm was coming, though, and everyone knew it.

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Officials canceled school Sunday night, around 9:45, before a single flake fell. Local news outlets carried stories of empty store shelves as residents bought milk, bread, coats, boots, shovels — the signs of a population generally unprepared for such snow.

We woke to white, something so rare here that it makes us simply awestruck.

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We’d grown used to seeing one snowfall a year, usually with two inches accumulation maximum, disappearing by the afternoon. To wake up to four inches, with more falling — almost unheard of in the South.

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Everything stops — no one’s going anywhere, and so unexpectedly, we have a family day.

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Morning in the snow, maybe a movie in the afternoon, more snow before the sun sets — a perfect day.

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