Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snow Man

One of the more accessible poems of the American poet Wallace Stevens is The Snow Man.  The first three stanzas follow:

One must have a mind of winter
to regard the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

and have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
the spruces rough in the distant glitter

of the January sun;  and not to think
of any misery in the sound of the wind,
in the sound of a few leaves..

I loved winter when I was a boy and well into my young manhood.  As a very small child (so I've been told) I liked to play outside in November without a shirt.  Later I welcomed winter at the rural home where I lived.  I trekked  through the woods and fields tracking animals.  I played at being in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  (Cowboys and Indians never seemed to have winter in their movies.)
In my teens, I ran a trapline which meant I had to rise before dark every winter morning and walk the fields and streams to remove any trapped animals there might be.  Most mornings the walk was for naught, but the walk itself was a joy.
Forty-seven years ago, I worked to build a ski area in southeastern New York State.  When it opened in December, I stayed on as assistant manager.  This was in the early days of the new popularity for skiing when snowmaking was a trial-by-error, hit-and-miss enterprise.  We learned quickly that the 4" aluminum pipe water line that ran up the side of the slope required an open outlet at the end of the pipe to keep the water running.  Without it, the water began to freeze in the pipe.
One brutally cold windy night, the water froze quickly and, before anything could be done, 44 lengths of 4" diameter aluminum pipe were frozen so solid that 2 or 3 splits appeared in each length.  All next day we (four men)  worked to disconnect the pipe and move it down to thaw out inside the maintenance shed.  As each length emptied out, it was carried into the garage and, using an acetylene torch, we welded the splits shut to reuse the pipe.  It was cold hard work performed under great pressure, but I loved every minute of it.
Like the Snow Man, I guess I had 'the mind of winter'. I saw trees crusted with snow and shagged with ice, and I never thought of any misery in the sound of the wind.   I saw beauty and heard music.

12/30/09:  I am adding a postscript to the above.  I have lived fulltime in south Florida since 1991.  Presently we are going through a cold spell where night time temps are in the low to mid 40's.  This happens about six or seven times each winter.  Whenever it does occur, I am reminded that I am not the Snow Man any more.  I could not endure a northern winter today.


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