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.

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