On Snow, Language and the South. Sort of

Jan­u­ary 22, 2016 7:18 pm
Clem­mons, NC 

A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
A car catch­es fire in Raleigh, North Car­oli­na as dri­vers bat­tle heavy snow on Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 122014.
Yes­ter­day, every­thing closed because it was report­ed we were going to get snow today. And so around 3am this morn­ing, it start­ed snow­ing and by 6am when I left ear­ly for work, the roads were already slip­pery. Luck­i­ly, the only oth­er peo­ple on the road were peo­ple like me try­ing to beat the onslaught of clue­less dri­vers who only ever dri­ve on snow/​ice once or a twice a year and have to be remind­ed, cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly so, what it means to have snow in the south.

I’ve learned that snow here is not like the snow that you and I grew up with which was crunchy like sty­ro­foam and could be scooped up and thrown as snow­balls or be sculpt­ed into snow­men. The word “snow” here means some­thing very dif­fer­ent than the rest of the country’s usage. It’s more akin to the South­ern phrase “Bless your heart” mean­ing any­thing but. Hav­ing had the phrase said to me in most vari­ants, I pro­pose that if one could ful­ly explain all the nuances of the phrase “Bless your heart” then one would grasp the frus­trat­ing­ly com­plex char­ac­ter of cer­tain South­ern­ers I have come to know (you know who you are.)

So, Snow here is not “snow.” The clos­est thing it is is ice. And then it’s not like the ice you see hang­ing from trees in intri­cate and del­i­cate shows of fil­i­gree. Here snow/​ice gen­er­al­ly is more like grit­ty sand. Some­times folks here will call it “sleet” but again it not what you or I would call sleet which i tend think of as being wet and splooshy and behav­ing more like thick, very cold rain. Instead, “sleet” here is gran­u­lar and pel­ty, as in to be pelt­ed in the face with. This sleet falls frozen and stays frozen, quick­ly form­ing nice lam­i­nar sheets of inch-thick ice that is as impos­si­ble to dri­ve on as you try­ing to imag­ine me skat­ing grace­ful­ly on a rink.

When peo­ple laugh about the South­ern Snow­poca­lypse of 2014 and the seem­ing inept­ness of cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, I want to remind them (oh peo­ple of Col­orado) that their hubris is mis­placed because they are com­par­ing apples-to-oranges. North­ern­ers would do no bet­ter if they were sub­ject­ed to the same con­di­tions South­ern­ers were and are. As I spend more time here, I learn this is true of more and more things. That’s all I have to say about that. For now

So, I stand out­side with the kids and see them try to play on and with the “snow” which can’t be used to make snow­balls or snow­men because it behaves like dry sand. Nor can it be sled­ded on because the snow then func­tions like an Olympic Luge track; the kids accel­er­ate too fast and have to bail/​eject from the sled to avoid cer­tain doom.

Nonethe­less the kids and I are hav­ing fun. There is noth­ing like a Cer­ti­fied Snow Day in which the World decides that while yes, it’s going to pum­mel you, it’s also going to equal­ly pound every­one else, which makes days like this have a cer­tain light­ness of spir­it, where the dai­ly grind and load lessens because you can not go/​do anywhere/​anything or you will end up both lit­er­al­ly and metaphor­i­cal­ly in a ditch, which I think gets at some­thing about what it means to live in the South where its rules and lan­guage aren’t read­i­ly appar­ent to me and even when they seem clear, may not actu­al­ly be what is real­ly going on. But with the help of some peo­ple down here, I have learned that the World is in fact not Hobbe­sian nor Malthu­sian, or Dar­win­ian. And that’s a good thing to know. Even if they don’t actu­al­ly have real snow in the South.

Excerpt from road trip

[June 15, 2015 Part of Our road­trip to coastal North Carolina]

June 8th, 2015: On NC-99 between Ply­mouth and Pan­tego, NC Some­how we’ve end­ed up in Indiana.

We’ve come upon com­mer­cial­ized farm­land which I haven’t seen since Indiana—flat, seam­less­ly plant­ed fields that run to the hori­zon. The roads drop away plumb-line straight and like infin­i­ty, tend to hyp­no­tize. Any sense of speed is sus­pend­ed. We aren’t dri­ving so much as float­ing while the land­scape sluices by. There is no point of ref­er­ence to com­pare our motion to oth­er bod­ies. It’s like being, I would imag­ine, on a vast calm ocean or an inter­stel­lar voyage–everything is far away, your rel­a­tive motion all but imper­cep­ti­ble. The road and the fields are unbro­ken, unde­mar­cat­ed lines that make it hard to judge speed in the same way judg­ing a mile-long train’s speed: they seem sta­tion­ary until they go blar­ing by like tor­na­does. With­out land­marks, I can see how some­one can eas­i­ly break 80, 90 miles an hour and not be aware of it

I yell at the kids in the back to look out their win­dows at the view and they do look up from their ipads and won­der what I am try­ing to show them. They are used to hills and trees and hous­es and here they only see geo­met­ric planes of browns and greens; I might as well be show­ing them a gray-laden, blank sky. To me it speaks of where I grew up and reminds me of my long trips between Chica­go and south­ern Indi­ana dur­ing col­lege breaks, hours of rid­ing a road through unbro­ken corn­fields that numbed friends mad from lack of scenery. But you dri­ve it long enough and you learn to appreciate—what I lat­er learned is called—the “neg­a­tive space” of the scenery, which is the space around and between things, sort of like Indi­ana; it’s a space between oth­er states in the Midwest—which I learned some peo­ple think includes all the states until the Rock­ies, which real­ly are called the Great Plains—and like­wise the way the Mid­west is, to some peo­ple, all that space between New York and say, San Diego [hmm, Leslie.] Need­less to say, they don’t bring the need­ed bag­gage to under­stand or appre­ci­ate indus­tri­al-grade farm­ing for its aus­tere and glacial­ly-paced beauty.

Tanglewood wildlife

June 15, 2014 8pm
W/​S, NC

My Father’s-Day day start­ed a bit ear­ly. Fri­day, I was able to pick up the kids from school on their last day of school and so we head­ed out to Tan­gle­wood Park, an estate owned by the Reynolds tobac­co fam­i­ly now donat­ed to the coun­ty, and went on to Mal­lard Lake. I want­ed to take them out on the pad­dle boats. After some cajol­ing and then threat­en­ing to maroon them with the con­ces­sion-stand staff if they did not board the pad­dle boat, I got us underway.

The lake sur­face is glass-smooth. It’s bro­ken only momen­tar­i­ly by the wakes of water-skeeters careen­ing, whizzing and spi­ral­ing out of the boat’s way; it’s like watch­ing time-lapse pho­tog­ra­phy of win­dow-frost form­ing and sub­li­mat­ing away. I only men­tion all this because Scar­lett is point­ing this out to me.

Jack and Mac are seat­ed in back watch­ing their own show, now and then ask­ing to go back­wards to look at some­thing clos­er, some­thing just under the water—nominally a gator but usu­al­ly just some branch or rock sub­merged and appear­ing to gen­tly bob, break­ing the sur­face predatorily.

We are all alone on the Lake except for a Great Blue Heron1 watch­ing us ped­al clos­er and clos­er, casu­al­ly dip­ping its head into the water and then look­ing side­ways at us. Even­tu­al­ly we get too close and with a flap or two of its wings it sails a few hun­dred feet away in ten sec­onds that took us 10 min­utes to ped­al across.

Scar­lett, of course, is up front and along­side me; she is furi­ous­ly ped­al­ing and try­ing to steer the boat along the shore and under­neath the over­hang­ing tree branch­es where the shade is cool­ing and wel­com­ing to us after being baked in our life-vests cross­ing the mid­dle of the lake, devoid of all breeze, the sun­light hit­ting us full-force.

We trawl along the shore­line qui­et­ly, eyes-peeled for any sur­face-sign of what lies beneath. The kids imag­i­na­tion are primed to be played with and so every ‘plop’, ‘ker­plunk’ or loud rip­ple becomes a shark swim­ming under­neath the boat— “You’re Gonna Need a Big­ger Boat,” I tell the kids— or a mys­te­ri­ous wave is real­ly a Burmese Python come north from Flori­da.

Even­tu­al­ly, even I start to believe what I’m telling the kids is in this lake, because at one point I see a pair of frog-legs the size of my arms zip by. Of course, none of the kids see it but they believe me. Soon, Mac sug­gests it’s time to head back to shore. Our hunt for Nessie over.

Get­ting off the boats, the kids then start walk­ing along the shore­line. We spot a tur­tle that is repeat­ed­ly div­ing under and then a minute lat­er pop­ping its head out, look­ing at us and then div­ing again, some­times pop­ping up clos­er, some­times far­ther from us and does appear to be sur­rep­ti­tious­ly tail­ing us. I don’t under­stand what I am see­ing until Mac asks if we can get some bread we brought along from the Jeep and soon the kids are chuck­ing grape-sized globs of bread at the tur­tle who is pluck­ing them from under­neath. Of course. Lots of kids come to this lake and this tur­tle knows it’s feed­ing time.

So for a few min­utes this goes on until I notice a cou­ple of ducks wad­dling towards us from over the hill near the playground—An Amer­i­can Perkin duck and a Wood duck. They are head­ed straight for us. Soon the kids are being aggres­sive­ly pan­han­dled by the pair, like sea­soned grifters work­ing Times Square. Again, lots of kids have been here and the ducks know a mark when they see one. They must have cleaned up the play­ground, work­ing the crowd and then saw us and decid­ed to check out the action. The ducks are not exact­ly vio­lent in their pes­ter­ing for bread from the kids, but if a duck can—and these two can—they con­vey a rough­ness, a coarse­ness, like two hobos on the lam.

To wrap up, we ran out of the bread and the ducks adiós us and we head to the play­ground and the kids find oth­er kids to play with and even Mac who tends to go solo plays well with oth­ers. The play­ground equip­ment is alter­na­tive­ly turned into a space­ship that has run out of fuel or a pirate’s ship run aground need­ing urgent repairs.

Envoyé de mon miniPad

  1. which I only thought lived in Ore­gon that I took as a good omen back then and take as such here now []