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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snow Day

Portland typically doesn’t get more than one or two big snow events per year. When the snow does come, it only loiters for a day or two. This puts snow in the novelty category for most of us who live in the Willamette Valley. When weather forecasters begin to insinuate that snow may reach the valley floor, it is not only the children who run shouting to the windows to verify the first snowflake sighting, the ranks are swollen also by every adult who never grew up in Minnesota or some other reasonable facsimile.

Early Tuesday morning, in what seemed like a sneak attack, the streets began disappearing under inches of snow that readily packed into an ice-like coating. The public school system authorities, still smarting from criticism for having closed down the schools on a day when no snow really materialized, almost erred in the other direction by refusing to call off school until almost seven o’clock. By that time, traffic had already pretty much ground to a halt and any place with elevation had turned into winter recreation areas.

While watching or reading the news coming out of the Middle East, it is easy to grow pessimistic about human nature. It seems obvious that we can’t get along with each other. It seems we are inclined to or destined to kill each other.

But snow days reveal that we like and need each other too. In many cases, just a few hours of freedom from work and the consequential forced isolation in a house or apartment results in the rare release of our inner children. Wide eyed and innocent again, kids of all ages bundle up and join together to play like dogs or otters in what seems to be a pure white blanket of redemption.

This is a gentle slope above reservoir 5 on the west side of Mt. Tabor. Tuesday it became an impromptu ski-slope, and those who didn’t manage to acquire a make-shift sled of inner-tube, cardboard, or plastic, at least lined the edges of the hills and waited for spectacles as impressive as the ski-jumper who used to crash every weekend on the Wide World of Sports.

There seems to be a sense of fellowship that results from shared common experiences, from remembering back to the olden days when we were raised in families and growing up and seeing the world with new eyes. Maybe we remember our familial relationships with each other when we all stand in awe before the tricks nature can do.

I was reminded of another winter storm, this one on the Oregon coast, when hurricane force winds buffeted the beaches for two straight days. When it was over, all the people came out, warily at first. They surveyed all the damage, tallied the number of dead sea-birds, marveled at the evidence of hydraulic power and fixed windows if necessary. Then, spontaneously, they began to group together on the beaches to share their stories, to stand together and rejoice in the feeble sunlight.

There is something wonderful yet paradoxical about human individuality and human culture. I could literally see the individual response to snow in all the creative solutions devised for sliding on it. People chose skis, snowboards, shovels, discs, inflatable boats, butts, cafeteria trays, and even a plastic twister game to take advantage of various kinds of slippery surfaces. Meanwhile, you could also see our culture - our rules and ethics spring into action. People stood in line, watched out for each other, collaborated on jump-building projects, administered first aid, anticipated conflicts and danger and took steps to minimize them. They shared. They compromised.

They had fun.

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