A secret unbeknownst to school children is that teachers look forward to snow days just as much as their students do, and today in my department office, we watched with glee as the enormous whirling blob settled over weather maps in an area stretching from Oklahoma to the East Coast, with Chicago situated right in its fat epicenter.
Our Dean of Student Life announced tomorrow’s school cancellation over the PA system at the end of eighth period, and he had to repeat most of it as it was drowned out by cheers.
The storm arrived, just as predicted, at 3:00 this afternoon, and even in Chicago where we are used to severe and horrible weather, the meteorologists have been using all sorts of hyperbolic terms: “life-threatening,” “historic,” “massive,” “monstrous,” “snowpocalyptic.” I got home just as the snow was beginning to fall, and now I’m sitting in my chair in the front room of my second floor apartment, looking out at my street and listening to the wind rattle the windows of my 90- year- old building. It’s looking scary-beautiful out there, all inhospitable thrashing black branches and white swirls. There’s barely anyone on the road. I’ve got wine, food, and diet coke, and as long as my power and heat stay on and a tree branch doesn’t fall on my car, I’m feeling pretty content.
Recently I was at a grad open house and I met a photography grad student from a mountainous part of rural Idaho. I asked her, in my awkward way, if, given her background, she likes to take “outdoorsy photos.” Yes, in hindsight, a pretty stupid question. But, being a nice person, she humored me with a response that I’ve actually thought about quite a bit since then. “In places like Idaho,” she said, “landscape is just a part of our life. We’re not ever separate from it. So we don’t think about it in the same way as city people do.”
Today I thought that maybe that’s why I love snowstorms. It’s not just because of the snow days, though I admit those are pretty fantastic. But what I also love is the fact that the big ones can paralyze cities so we have to take notice, so that we are forced into remembering that nature and landscapes are part of our urban lives too. When Lake Michigan freezes and then floods Lake Shore Drive, when wind gusts blow down power lines and cars become entombed in snow drifts, we’re reminded that while we can beat back nature to a certain degree, we can never truly conquer it. Sometimes we just have to stop our routines, submit, and watch out our windows. It’s a good feeling, being awestruck.
There’s something about the loneliness of storms, the strength of them, that lends itself to introspection. In other words: Snowpocalypse is perfect writing weather. Hey, it’s not like I have anywhere to be…