Saturday, December 19, 2020

Quote of the Day (John Updike, on Exiting a High School to the Snowstorm Outside)

“What a crowd! What a crowd of tiny flakes sputters downward in the sallow realm of the light above the entrance door! Atoms and atoms and atoms and atoms. A furry inch already carpets the steps. The cars on the pike travel slower, windshield wipers flapping, headlight beams nipped and spangled in the ceaseless flurry. The snow seems only to exist where light strikes it.”— American man of letters John Updike (1932-2009), The Centaur: A Novel (1962)

Snow was common in the rural Pennsylvania area where John Updike grew up and where his early novel is set. I can still recall times seeing snowflakes as I stepped out of the gym of my high school in northern New Jersey in the 1970s. 

But over the last few years, it has become a rather unusual sight. Earlier this week, TV meteorologists were telling us that there were only five inches of snow for the entire winter last year in Central Park.

The snowstorm that blew through late Wednesday into Thursday, the biggest in this area of the Northeast in the last five years, has more than made up for that total already. Updike’s description hints at the danger in such a dangerous storm, but it is overwhelmed by the lyricism of this passage.

In the same way, it is lovely to look out at snow, and even more so to write about it—but, at a certain age in life (which I’m afraid I have reached), not so much to be in the midst of it—steering one’s car if one needs to drive, shoveling as bitter winds blow about you, shoveling again when city plows push the snow back into the driveway and sidewalk you’ve struggled to clear, and walking gingerly on streets that have iced up overnight.

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