Slush

We never know when we’ll get snow here in South Carolina. We once went several years without much more than a little flurry that melted the instant it touched the ground, so when we do have snow, we have to make the most of it. We have to get out into it, feel it, hear it (if it’s mixed with ice crystals, which it often is here).

So last night, with dinner done and the kitchen cleaned up, we all took the dog for a walk in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was mixed with rain, and what lay about the road was a slushy mix that got everyone wet almost immediately. K and the kids turned back quickly; I went with the dog for another mile or so.

Today proved to be better. It was supposed to stay below freezing all night, and there was a forecast for continued snow throughout the morning. And fall it did — big fluffy flakes that floated down delicately that would then transform to smaller flakes that fell quickly. Back and forth between the two forms of snow throughout the morning.

But the kids begin still sick, we were reticent to let them out. The Boy and I decided to play a bit of chess. He’s learning piece by piece. For a few weeks, we played only with pawns until he got the hang of their basic nuance. Then we added bishops — after all, they move in a way similar to how pawns attack. Then rooks. Finally, knights. We spent several evenings just practicing how knights moved.

“Daddy, can we play with rooks, bishops, and knights now?” he asked this morning, and so we went for it.

“Are you sure you want to move there?” became my mantra. Occasionally, he would look and reconsider.

“Oh, no! You can take me there!”

“But can you take me back?”

And so we played. I made purposefully stupid moves for him to take advantage of, but I made a little rule for myself: if he didn’t reconsider his move after I suggested it, I would take the piece, so in the end, I won. (The aim in king-less/queen-less chess? Get one pawn to the other end of the board so that it can’t be taken. It’s how I teach my students at schoool as well.)

Still the snow fell — but almost none of it was sticking to the roads, which were wet and relatively warm.

“Maybe we’ll have a snow day Monday!” L pondered.

“Likely not.”

Still, we have a large district, and we have had snow days when there’s not a flake on the ground here because of what was going on in the northernmost edges of the district.

First Snow

The announcement was simple: “Teachers, please check your email.” Though there was not a word said about the content of the email in question, we all knew, teachers and students alike, what it said. It had been snowing for an hour, and there was only one option: early dismissal.

By the time all the kids were gone, it was only a few minutes before teachers’ normal departure time. Still, with everyone — absolutely everyone — on the road then, it took over double my normal time to get home.

By the time I got home, the Boy and the Girl had already spent a good bit of time in the snow, such as it was.

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.

Garbage-Bagging

“It’s supposed to start around seven this evening,” I explained. “That’s what all the meteorological reports suggest.” The slight bit of icy snow that frosted the ground yesterday was not enough to do much of anything, one would think, but when you’re on the South, any amount of “snow” is significant for children. So the suggestion that we might have even more snow was the stuff of sweet dreams as the kids plodded off to bed. “Is it snow?” was the mantra of the evening, but they went to sleep with complete confidence with the weather reports, knowing that they were only off by the time.

From the moment they woke up, the kids were at the window, ready to go out, ready to play in the snow. “There’s so much snow!” E chirped again and again. It’s only the second or third time the Boy has seen snow, so any snow at all is significant. When Dziadek was sick a few years ago, K to the Boy with her for a visit in the middle of January, and so E saw real snow, deep snow, snow that covers everything and utterly transforms the whole landscape, but of course he doesn’t remember it.

When we finally made it outside, we had a dilemma: the young man who was sledding with us yesterday had come in the morning and taken his sleds with us. What to do? “I guess we sled like I did when I was a kid,” K said. And so we took an old sleeping bag — though, properly speaking, it should have been straw — and used it to stuff a garbage bag. K also thought we might try E’s old inner-tube we used at the pool. “It’s not like we use it anymore.” As the finishing touch, our neighbors invited us to use their yard — slightly smoother and with fewer trees.

When the kids came in, they were soaked. And that’s as it should be.

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.

Double Snow

Tuesday we had a snow day. The Boy was so thrilled at the prospect of playing in the snow that it really didn’t matter that there was no snow to speak of. All Monday evening he was talking about getting to play in the snow, getting to make a snow man, throw snowballs, shovel snow with his backhoe.

I knew that there was little chance of snowball fights, snowmen, or much else. But I’d also known that a bigger storm was coming later in the week. A real storm. So I reassured the Boy that we would have plenty of snow to play in come Thursday.

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The Boy didn’t mind the small amount of snow, though. Snow is snow, and as long as it was something he could shove around with his toys, he was thrilled.

We were all excited about Wednesday’s storm, though. They kept shifting the start time, further and further back, from late afternoon to early evening, but the intensity only grew. Three to five inches eventually became a possibility up to ten inches — a real snow storm.

Wednesday during class when students asked when certain assignments were due, I kept saying things like, “If this storm is anything like they’re saying it will be, we won’t be coming back until Monday, so we’ll make it due then.”

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Finally the snow began, and it looked so promising, falling so thick and hard that it was possible even to capture it in a picture. I thought of the few great snow storms of my youth in southwest Virginia, where it rarely snowed but every few years would let loose a great storm that piled drifts three or more feet deep. Snow so deep that one had to pack it down before sledding was even a remote possibility. Snow that turned everything into a white blanket. Of course there’s no comparing that to the seven winters I spent in southern Poland, the winters that were the norm of K’s youth, where there was so much snow that even I got sick of it.

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The governor had already declared a state of emergency, and all the reporters, after literally reporting on half an inch of snow Tuesday with giddy delight, were all probably flushed with anticipation. The school district canceled school before we’d even completed Wednesday’s schedule, and friends posted pictures on social media of virtually empty bread aisles in local supermarkets.

But when we woke up this morning, expectant, we found a repeat of Tuesday, a thin layer of slush that seemed destined to melt shortly after lunch.

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Local news web sites quickly offered stories explaining what happened. “The moisture was there,” meteorologists explained, “but the temperature just popped up two degrees and that changed everything.” Our official total, as opposed to five or more inches, was 0.8 inches. Further north there were totals more like what we were promised, but nothing really that impressive. Headlines developed through the day: “National Weather Service stands by Upstate snow forecast.” It seemed everyone was disappointed on one level or another.

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Still, we had enough slush on the ground to roll a small snowman, enough slush to get in boots and make the Girl complain, enough slush to get the Boy cold in a few minutes and whining to go inside.

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But not enough snow even to get all the ground damp.

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We in the South take what we can get when it comes to snow, though. Supposedly areas of Alabama and Mississippi got close to ten inches, so perhaps by the time it got here — well, who knows. We had slush, we built a slushman, and headed in late morning knowing perfectly well that we would be going to school tomorrow.

Snow in the South

It only takes the slightest dusting of snow to send people in the South running. Newscasters report live in conditions that are horrific: half an inch of snow, temperatures dipping into the high twenties.

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But you can never take the South out of a Southerner.

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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.

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.

New Market Memories

The 9:18 bus is the only option. There is one at 12:40, but with the return schedule as it is, that leaves only an hour or so to finish one’s business in town. No, the 9:18 is and always has been my Saturday choice. It gives me enough time to purchase the items I need, have a bite of lunch, and possibly wander around town a bit, maybe head to one of the old churches to sit and think.

The bus trip lasts about an hour and costs five zloty, though when I first arrived in Poland, it was less than four. We roll through Jablonka, Piekielnik, Czarny Dunajec, Rogoznik, Ludzmierz. Between Piekielnik and Czarny Dunajec are vast fields where local farmers grow potatoes, grains, beets — everything. There are more between Czarny Dunajec — the halfway point — and Ludzmierz.

We bounce and sway on the uneven, hole-filled Polish roads, finally arriving at the bus station at almost eleven.

I’m here for a new sport jacket — the Polish equivalent of the prom is coming up in a couple of weeks, and while I don’t have enough money for a suit, I thought I’d splurge a little and buy a new sports jacket. Without a suit, I’ll almost certainly be the most informally dressed person at the dance, but I’ve learned to accept being just a little different.

I head out of the station, down Krolowej Jadwigi Street, turn left Krzywa (“Curve”) Street, then right Dluga (“Long”) Street after stopping at the corner of Kzywa and Ogrodowa to buy a little snack, maybe a sourkraut croquette.

It’s winter, so there’s snow and ice everywhere. Even the sidewalks have a thick layer of tramped down snow that has turned to ice.

There’s an art to walking on ice, and after a couple of winters in Poland, I think I’ve mastered it. Still, I slip and slide enough to seek out the few spots of pavement that might appear. The two or three steps with good traction is a calming moment: I never realize how my whole body tenses up as I walk about on ice until I take two or three steps on asphalt or concrete. My back loosens up, my shoulders drop, my toes uncurl, and for a brief moment, walking is pleasurable again.

I stop at a couple of shops, find something acceptable, then head to the pizzeria at the corner of the town square for some warmth and food.

Once inside, I unwrap the many layers I have on, order a coffee, and thumb through whatever book I have in my backpack. Experience has taught me never to leave my little apartment without adequate reading material, a change of underwear, and some extra cash.

The waitress brings me my coffee, and I order my pizza, twice making sure she realizes that I most definitely do not want ketchup on my pizza. An odd habit, and one that I’ve never acclimated to. At the same time, Polish ketchup is better than American: slightly spicy and a little tangy, it goes better with fries than the sweet American alternative. Still, ketchup is ketchup, pizza is pizza, and never should the two meet, in my American mind.

The cook takes a little longer than I’d anticipated on my pizza, and it quickly becomes evident that I won’t be taking the 13:40 bus back home. And so I suddenly find myself with two additional hours.

I think about heading to the old church behind the rynek. There’s a garden in the back with an elaborate Way of the Cross.

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Essentially, the whole New Testament is laid out in small, glass-enclosed dioramas.

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It’s a little kitschy, but there’s something about it I enjoy. I’ve never seen it in the snow, and it might make for some interesting contrast.

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In the end, I decide to take a chance and drop in on the Peace Corps volunteer who lives in Nowy Targ. He’s not expecting me, but he often isn’t.

I make the long trek to his apartment, almost literally on the other side of town. I walk forever along Aleja Tysiaclecia (“Thousand-Year Avenue”), which turns into Kolejowa (“Railway”) Street before changing names again to ulica Ludzmierska (“Ludzmierz Street”) until I reach the Bor neighborhood.

He’s home, and as always, gracious and kind.

“I’ve got a couple of hours till my bus,” I explain, though I know it’s not necessary. I virtually live here just about every other weekend, filling Friday nights with nine-ball, libation, and English conversation.

We sit and watch ski jumping on a German sports channel — he speaks German, I don’t, so I just watch the footage and imagine my own commentary.

At about fifteen past three, I head out for my bus, once again curling my toes and drawing up my shoulders to walk out on the ice.


Such was an average Saturday when I lived in Lipnica in the late 1990s. This evening, I’ll be heading back to Nowy Targ for another evening of billards and conversation — the first such in about fourteen years, I guess. I’ll see how things have changed in NT, but already, there are differences: I’ll be driving instead of taking the bus. (Indeed, I’ve heard that PKP Nowy Targ has gone completely out of business, so there is no 9:18 or 12:40 bus anymore. It’s all private bus-lettes now, and I don’t have the slightest idea about their schedule.) More changes: said friend, C, still lives in NT, but married with a house now, he lives quite a distance from his original Bor neighborhood. This of course doesn’t take into account all the other changes swirling around us, most important being that we’re both fathers now.

But I expect we’ll walk into Dudek, greet the bartender (I’ll bet it’s the same fellow.) and suddenly, for a few hours, it will be 1998 again.

#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.