It’s minus 24 this morning, a relief from the frigid temperatures we have been enjoying, temperatures that have dipped into the minus 30s and below when the wind is factored in. In spite of the cold, it snowed yesterday, fine snow, falling relentlessly and building on the already formidable snow banks that line our driveway. Today, the weatherman predicts a day of brilliant sunshine where the fiery ball lights up the sky with a blinding lemon glow.
The snow speaks when you walk on it with that squeak-squawk song, this time a low and guttural sound because it is so cold. It is an almost perfect winter. The snow is white, not gritty-gray from sand — it’s no use putting down salt when it’s this cold, thank goodness. Driving is tricky. You have to pay attention because it is quite slippery on the streets. But our cars remain clean.
People are bundled; you can often see only a slit for the eyes of the bus people waiting at the stops. We seem to feel the cold more this winter after the balmy weather last year but there is a cheerfulness in their voices as people come in from the outdoors, saying, “Awfully chilly out there, today!” There is a pride in the acknowledgement. And we all feel vitally alive.
After writing the above, I drove to work, mesmerized by the sundogs that I chased with my camera. They are so elusive when I try to capture an image on the fly. It was very slippery on the icy-glassy streets, so the going was slow, but it didn’t matter because the morning was very beautiful. Exhaust fogs followed cars as they pulled away from street lights. The sun dogs danced on either side of the sun, which seemed so close you could almost touch it. January is the time when the sun is closest to the earth, although the earth’s axis tilt keeps us in the north from feeling its strength.
I had no sooner arrived at the office when my bookkeeper, Margot, came in and pointed out an accident on the corner right outside my window. One car had been rammed up the snowy boulevard and into the street light. The other was sprawled across the intersection, its front end completely crumpled. A red-haired woman was frantically trying to open the rear doors of the car and when she succeeded two young children, a boy of about 8 and a girl of 11, came tumbling out. They began walking in our direction, the girl holding her stomach and crying. They looked confused and in shock.
“Open the back door and bring them in where it’s warm,” I shouted. In a few minutes they were all inside, including the other driver who kept saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I think she had gone through a red light, or perhaps couldn’t stop on the icy road. The little girl continued to cry and moan and now her brother started crying, too, frightened, I suppose. The mother was trembling and breathless.
We supplied phones and chairs and comfort and soon the fire department paramedics arrived. Some came in to see to the children. Others efficiently blocked the street until they could move the cars and clean up the debris. This was all done and traffic was flowing within half an hour. Inside, the children had stopped crying and mom was getting in touch with her family. It was finally decided that they would take the little girl to the hospital “just to be sure”, as her stomach was still hurting. The little boy had a goose egg on his head, but he seemed all right. In two hours they were all on their way.
It made me think, though, about the transience of tranquility and how it can be so easily exploded by a chance act, a split second of bad judgement or inattention. It appears that no one was seriously hurt in this case, but I can’t help but think of the disruption to their lives. The children will have missed school that day. The mom will have missed work, not to mention the funeral she said they were going to. The grandmother, who came to take the boy home, had her day turned upside down. Dad, at work, must have been frantic with worry — I could hear the kids talking to him on the phone. The family will be car-less for some time. The other driver may face charges — her car, too, was inoperable because, while it was in better shape, the front wheel had been broken.
And yet, when they were all gone from the office, the turbulent space they had occupied closed behind them as though nothing had ever happened. Our day went on as before and only the snowy tracks of all the firemen’s boots were left to attest to their presence. The snow soon melted in the carpet and dried, leaving no trace.
Outside, other cars passed unharmed through that space on the corner, creeping along to deal with the treacherous ice. The sun beamed down, flooding the world with lemon and leaving the sundogs behind as she rose. The day went on.