One of the upsides of sliding inexorably towards being fired is that my diary is rather empty. What was a fertile plain of meetings, events, conferences and the like is now an empty tundra.
Of course there’s stuff to do wrap up my work and career and leave everything tidy. And there’s the effort to be spent on finding another source of income. But there is also plenty of time for reflection. General snow also gives many folks not on my sledge the chance to pause for thought. There’s nothing like unexpected stillness after frenzied activity to set you thinking.
Particularly when it’s snowing.
Snow transforms the external landscape in a way that echoes in my internal life. Away go the gaudy absolutes of the Technicolor world and instead there’s a world of shades rather than colour. The white earth merging into the white heavens. Boundaries get smoothed away and often disappear. Things you take for granted mobility, freely available food and the like are no longer to be relied upon. There is the world, or a version of it, that does not care how its actions hurt the people trying to get by.
I sit watching a desperate robin attack the food I’ve just defrosted feeling a strange kinship with him.
Without warning he’s found his world made new as well. Old reference points are gone or obliterated in a way that makes them unrecognisable. And suddenly the search for sustenance becomes a test of endurance in the face of elemental forces unmoved by the fate of one small bird or family in some quiet corner of England.
The snow has indeed become general. The storm upon us.
One of my favourite passages about snow in literature comes from James Joyce’s Dubliners and the story The Dead. I have always felt a little sympathy for the story’s ‘hero’ Gabriel Conroy who finds the world is not how he thought it is. The final paragraph contains a powerful image of snow on which to meditate.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Truly, the snow is general.