Peter Patau Photo>Madison got nearly 14 inches of snow. Southeast of us it was worse, and much further south, they had those awful tornadoes that killed some fifty people at last count. A thousands people stranded on the Interstate near Madison for nine hours. Quite a tally for the big blizzard of 2008.
In "Snowbound: A Winter Idyl," his hoary old chestnut from the mid-19th century, John Greenleaf Whittier perfectly caught the gradual way one of these big storms gets started.
The sun that brief December dayOtherwise, being snowbound in the 19th century and the 21st century are very different. Whittier's New England family gathered round the fire talked, told stories, played games and made the most of being cut off from the world for an entire week. In 2008 the office is closed, we're cut off from our busy schedule for one day at most, and it feels like an adventure.
Rose cheerless over hills of gray,
And, darkly circled, gave at noon
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told . . .
Even so, we're only cut off in relative terms. I'm reluctant to try navigating our unplowed side street with the car, although I'm sure I could in an emergency. And, naturally, we're connected. A client calls my cell phone from a southern state, wondering why we Yankees let a little snow close our office when they have tornado warnings down there. I'm online much of the afternoon. We listen to Super Tuesday being dissected on NPR, and we watch the evening news, which includes the story about the people stuck on the Interstate just a few miles from here. We shovel snow. I walk to a neighborhood grocery.
In the 1865 poem, Whittier's father commanded, "Boys, a path!" With buskins on their feet and mittens on their hands, the boys excavated a tunnel to the barn. We excavated our car and tunneled from one side of the street to the other in order to comply with the alternate-side snow parking rules. It's tough being snowbound.