Wednesday, March 10, 1999

Falling snow: whiteout for life's stresses

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mother Nature is a merciless hag. Or so I first thought Tuesday morning while shoveling what felt like 67 inches of snow off my driveway.

        But the more I shoveled, the more my opinion of Mother Nature changed for the better.

        She's doing us a favor, I huffed to myself, heaving another shovelful onto the lawn. Snow is good. It puts daily life into perspective.

        I looked around and saw my yard as a portrait in white. Albino chives grew in the garden. Snow coated bare tree limbs. Evergreens posed as giant snow cones.

        Snow insulates us from the outside world, reduces the stressful noise generated by the cares of the day. After a heavy snowfall, the news of the moment doesn't seem as pressing. But the moment, silent and white and motionless, is everything.

Let it snow
        When it snows, it doesn't matter who owns the Reds. Could be Marge Schott, some rich guy from Cleveland or a bongo player from Trinidad.

        When the wind carries the distant whine of snowblowers, the fates of Pete Rose Way, Fort Washington Way and Cincinnati's Convention Center are immaterial. The snow, how you walk through it, drive over it and enjoy it, is the issue of the day.

        Tuesday morning's snow reminded me to savor what's on the ground now. The grass, baseball, the usual cast of characters parading back and forth across our town will return soon enough.

        Instead of cursing the snow and wishing it away before the evening rush hour, I happily watched it fall and noticed that it was perfect for rolling into snowmen and packing into snowballs.

        It was a good snow for walking, too. Not too much powder. No ice underneath. You could go far through this stuff.

        Few things in this life create such peaceful feelings as walking across an unblemished field, or even a sidewalk, of new-fallen snow. Just by taking a step, you can go quietly and still make your mark in the world. Until the snow melts.

        Suddenly, I wanted more snow. Bigger flakes. Heavier accumulation. Taller snowmen. Stockpiles of snowballs.

        Blasphemous thoughts, I know, for a Cincinnatian in winter. Snow is the enemy, the White Death laying siege to our busy lives with slippery streets and school closings. Our busy schedules are buried as much as our freeways when a storm covers us with snow.

        Good, I said, tossing one heavy scoop after another, up and down my driveway. Good for the snow to stop us in our tracks.

        A couple of moments later, I wondered whether all these kind thoughts were just a daze brought on by the snow's brightness and the exertion of removing it. Sleet stung my eyes. My nose was running nonstop. Occasional windy whiteouts put me in the middle of a gigantic snow globe.

        I was feeling a bit light-headed and disoriented. Like a character in one of Jack London's short stories, I had the urge to curl up and take a nap in a snowdrift. Since I know how that story ends, I fought the urge.

        To shake off the daze, I started shoveling faster. My head cleared. So did my driveway.

        By 8 a.m., the sound of distant church bells came floating down with the snow.

        For some reason, as the bells tolled, another of the week's news items popped into my head.

        I thought of the battle in Adams County over whether a memorial bearing the Ten Commandments should stand outside a school.

        I thought of the monument halfway buried by this morning's heavy snowfall. I stopped shoveling and stared at the soft-shaped beauty of a landscape covered by a blanket of snow.

        Maybe, we could cope with this weather, and life in general, if we held another commandment:

        Thou shalt enjoy snow as you would enjoy life. For its time on earth, like ours, is all too short.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.