Thursday, November 27, 2008
a snow story
It's starting to snow now. It's the soft pretty kind of snow, the kind you don't mind falling because it's so light and airy. Throws a clean blanket over the leafless landscape, transforming its starkness into a pearly white bed. It's the kind of snow that's refreshing, like a cleansing rain. The kind that signals hope, which is a much called upon emotion these times.
I wrote the following snow story when I used to live in my old house.
She crossed at the traffic lights, walked along the curbside to the driveway, then made her way past the wrought iron gate into the cemetery. The sound of the traffic almost immediately fell away, until the noises of the street were barely discernible behind the old red pines.
The ground under her feet was frozen hard as rock for the temperature was -17c and had been below zero for weeks. But thankfully, no windchill biting through the air. And, as she looked towards the west, she noticed a glittering sun low in the sky, with no clouds to dampen the spirits.
The cemetery was not the one in which her father was buried. He hadn't liked crowds. He preferred trees, birds, nature and the sound of silence rather than the chatter of people. Her father was buried way down the road, ten kilometers, to be exact. In a small country cemetery. Big blue sky overhead. An empty farmer's field across the road. A pond in the back, bordered with tall plume-like reeds that caught the setting sun quite nicely.
It was a cemetery not crowded with the Mary Shelleski’s and "Here Lies the beloved wife of John Smith" and the huge, towering granite crosses engraved, ironically, with the name "Little." There was no big gray slab of a monument with a black-and-white photo of Mary and Bernie hugging each other tied at its base with a wide red plastic ribbon, proclaiming to all passersby: "Together Forever."
And there was not a whole section of small, white stone baby graves from the 50s and 60s. The baby graves are mostly mottled with green now as it's no longer the fashion to segregate babies at death.
A flower gone to heaven, says one. Our little lamb, says another. Safe in the arms of Jesus, yet another.
The baby graves are all covered in snow now. Only the top of an angel's head pokes here and there through the snow. Or an occasional wing tip. All the little stone lambs are completely invisible now, lying silent under a blanket of snow. You wouldn't even know that there was a section of land set aside only for the gone-to-heaven babies of the 50s and 60s — that is, if today was the first time you went for a walk in the cemetery.
And, you know? No one visits those little lambs in the winter. You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. Winter gives it away. There aren't any pathways dug through the snow to where the little angels rest.
Once you're inside the gates where the snow is untrammeled, unblemished and untouched, well, the snow is so brilliantly white — dazzlingly so — that it's hard to see where you are going. With a sea of white before you and a sea of white below you, you find yourself walking inside a snow cloud, directionless. The only thing that mars your whirling into white are the tiny black squiggly lines swimming before your eyes like fish in a fishbowl. The snow so white makes you conscious of disappearing into white. Only your breath and your heart beating hold you back, keep your feet
on the ground, unexpectedly, a path dug out of the snow caught my eye. So neatly shoveled. Like a tunnel. I couldn't resist. I looked over my shoulder (although there is rarely anyone else in the graveyard) and followed the path. It lead to a cleared out grave site. The grave of a three-year-old boy, "Justin Bradley," dead only since last spring.
It's like a shrine. Somebody has placed large, frozen ice blocks on the ground, hollow inside, each holding a blue or red candle. They've been burned, too. There are two tiny white stools, low to the ground. And wreaths of green cedar boughs. Little porcelain angels sit high up on the monument, wistfully looking down.
Someone has dug out all the snow by the child's grave and because there's a lot of it, his grave is like a snow fort. The snow is piled so high, it's like walls around you. Like sheltering inside an igloo, or a quinzy. Yet, it's a snow house with no roof. A snow house with the open sky for a ceiling.
It was so quiet in there. At first, I felt like I was sneaking into someone's private space. Their private sanctuary. I felt a bit guilty. Then, it felt a bit creepy. I thought, how morbid. A shrine to a dead son. How trapped in time. Living in the past. But as I stood there in the cold crisp air, the snow and the grave and the ice candles and the angels worked their magic and I felt something else. A peacefulness.
And knew that I was standing in a silent snowy comfort station, a silent snowy respite from what's out there...
on the other side of the wrought iron gates. Where the snow is dirty, trampled and ugly.