The second winter storm in a week has dropped another foot (and more) of snow on Casper, and I am (mostly) done whining uncontrollably about it. We are three weeks shy of the semester’s end, and the only word on my lips is acceptance. Things will be as they will be, and everything will get done because everything always gets done. And this is Wyoming: nothing meteorological has permanence. Despite near whiteout conditions here and there last Monday-Wednesday, despite the fact that my Serious Business Snow Boots were not high enough to keep the snow from winnowing down and melting, plastering cold denim against my shins, by Thursday, the roads had mostly melted clean and the sidewalks (where the sun struck them) were nearly dry. The snow here is powder-light, and the wind will whisk away what sun and dry, dry air doesn’t sublimate.There are no high, gray banks of snow that last and last here.
But for today, it feels quite constant–quite deeply, silently constant–because it’s supposed to continue snowing until last tonight, and all of the schools are closed, even Casper College. This is my fourth year here, and it is my first snow day, and yesterday, when it snowed all day again, there was the soft, hopeful buzz of snow day? flickering all over campus. Last night, my brain had already committed to it–I stayed up far, far too late, and I set my alarm an hour later than I usually do, for 6:01 a.m., because we were told that if there was a decision to close campus for the day, it would come by six a.m. At three I woke up, again at five, at five-fifteen, and then when the beeping started, the message was there: all classes and activities for the day canceled.
I tried to go back to sleep. It is the first rule of Snow Day: go back to bed. But it’s the middle of April and the small window in the bedroom had let in enough snow-filtered light to say morning. And it’s a snow day: assignments cannot be collected, meetings do not meet. It is the kind of quintessential freedom that rarely happens–a full gift of a day.
I’m trying to use mine wisely. I did clean. I have writing to do. I have course-planning to do. But mostly, I keep looking outside, thinking about James Joyce, specifically the last paragraph of his short story, “The Dead” (the last story in Dubliners). I read this paragraph to my Composition II students yesterday. I always introduce it as “the most beautiful paragraph written in English,” and I have yet to find anything that convinces me otherwise.
Read it out loud.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. he watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Fifteen minutes after I read this to my students, I saw the first news of the explosions at the Boston Marathon. I didn’t tell them about it. I didn’t interrupt. They were working and so many of them have that haggard, purple-circled smudge around the eyes that says, right now, they’re always working and they need to be working to get everything done because it’s the end of the semester and the only word that we have for it is acceptance. We accept that the next three weeks are going to be hard. We accept that this part of the semester always sucks. I accept that I probably should have told my students what was happening and I accept that I did not because if they could have seventy-five minutes of calm, computer-lab quiet that added up to having free the same amount of time last night when they were with family or friends to process the news or ignore it and keep working or play video games or throw snowballs, I could give them that.
Today, the weather gave me time, gave my students time (even if I don’t think they’ll use it any more wisely than I probably will because I keep looking outside and simply staring). Today, the weather gave this state more snow, and this state needs snow to feed its spindly streams and rivers, to melt slow from the tops of mountains. Today, the weather gave slowness and quiet to Casper, and in the face of all of this fast noise from the news–suspects, arrests, fear, speculation, inaccuracy inaccuracy inaccuracy–I am glad that I can hear the snow falling faintly and faintly falling, these dry, ice-fine flakes.