As I have already said, there were probably billions of snowflakes softly settling on the roofs of the houses, the numerous trees, and the substantial grounds, that surround the condo we are living in, or as Robert Bridges in “London Snow” more eloquently expressed it, “Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying, hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town.”
I stood in reverie and wondered, perhaps a little smugly, what someone from some tropical island, with its crystalline blue waters, gentle trade winds blowing offshore, and palm trees swaying over white sand beaches, would give just to experience this idyllic northern experience, - just once. I realize it’s a selective memory, (maybe not) but I recalled occasions of my youth when I might have lain flat on a snow bank on a similar day, and, focusing on a single falling snowflake, try to follow its slow and quiet descent to the earth.
As I kept looking through the window at those snowflakes (and now, let me say there must have been trillions!). I was totally amazed having read and believed, unquestionably, that every single, single, snow flake was unique and different, and that every single one of them was hexagonal in shape. I also wondered how they knew that, but I supposed that there might have been a meteorologist, somewhere, sometime, someone like Sharon Snow of Fogo or Ryan Snodden of Peterborough, actually, but many years ago now, who studied a million or so snowflakes and by extrapolation, I guess, came up with the conclusion, and most likely got a B+ or something similar, for the effort.
To say I was transfixed is understatement. I recalled a poem and started to recite it aloud, that I had learned, by heart, as was the expression, from my Grade Four reader, and I feel there are some of you reading this who remember it, as well. The poem “Snow Flakes” was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, many children’s favourite poet, or at least it was in ‘my day’, and here is the first stanza:
Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garden shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Aren’t you, by now, feeling like I did? Really, I felt I was surely about to levitate, so ethereal was this setting, but I was brought back to reality by a curt, snapping, reminder from my wife, speaking a decibel or two louder than usual, “Put the dishes left from last night in the dishwasher.” I immediately complied. (A synonym, by the way, for ‘complied’ is ‘obeyed’.)
It was now time for me to take my dog, Pixie, for her morning walk. Ridiculous as this must seem, I could hardly wait. Perhaps, though, I should have sat down and wrote poetry.
There is, as I have said before, a small park nearby where I walk my dog, and the only word I can use to describe the setting this particular morning, is my borrowing the title of Richard Smith’s well-known poem, “Winter Wonderland”. I would walk a few steps and then pause briefly to really appreciate the scenery. I was recalling, and reciting lines, out loud, mind you, from poems written by Robert Bridges (I mentioned him and his poem ‘London Snow’ earlier.), Emily Dickenson, and others.
A few snowflakes settled on my outstretched hand, and I swear they looked exactly alike! But it takes faith, I know, to believe all this about every single one having six sides and that no two are alike, I’m allowing. It’s a bit mystical, I’m thinking.
Did you ever hear the question: How many angels can dance (or even sleep, if they ever sleep) on the point of a needle? Dorothy Sayers says that an infinity of angels can be located on the point of a needle. Perhaps that too is the best way to count snowflakes.
Now, though, that I was in an open space, and realizing my own fallibility is such matters, I estimated that there must be ‘umptillion’ snowflakes falling. (My word processer, just by the way, is questioning my use of the word ‘umptillion’, but I have no intention of changing it, as I’m sure you know the meaning of the word, even if my computer doesn’t.)
Pixie, poor little confused Pixie, was bewildered, occasionally stopping and keeping a puzzled eye on me, and moving her head to one side to the other, indicating concern, no doubt. Just what would she do with a master gone insane, or more insane, as she was probably thinking? She is a very smart dog, let me assure you. Perhaps some of you reading this are remembering the poem by Robert Frost, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”, where Frost in a similar setting, halted his horse to appreciate a similar setting. His horse, like Pixie, my dog, showed perplexity, as well. He wrote:
“My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near…”
“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.”
Eventually, after almost finishing my walk, I burst into song, unashamedly off-key, no doubt, and yes, you have guessed the one, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” Unsuccessfully, I am sure, I tried to emulate or even imagine, I was Bob Dylan. Can you imagine that? I was, I must add, wearing my ‘shades’, as I am pretty sure Bob Dylan would have.
I just used the word or phrase ‘off-key’, and it reminded me of an incident from my school days, and our practicing for a Christmas concert. As was the custom, we would all be grouped together for an opening and closing song.
Just to give you some idea of who we were, I’ll mention just a few: Sam Godden, Dick Godden, Liol Hewitt, Liol Lewis, Harry Raymond Hewitt, Gord Hewitt, Bert King (now he COULD sing), Elsie Jane Hewitt, Thurza Blakey, Naomi Fennimore, Mildred Lewis, Myrtle Fennimore, and, I almost forgot, myself. We were quite the choir, or quire, as we would have spelled the word way back then.
The low-end teacher, Miss Hancock was playing the organ, which I seem to remember was borrowed from Martha Hewitt, who lived close by. We were singing, appropriately enough, “Jingle Bells”, and we were being told to go a little higher with the last word ‘sleigh’ in the chorus, I do believe. Invariably, my old friend Liol Lewis, who might have been the only boy, excepting Bert King, who could carry a tune, would deliberately go off-key in as weird an artificially high-pitched falsetto note as can be imagined. Perhaps you can’t imagine it. We would all laugh hysterically, because it was after school, and laughing was then allowed, kind of. Old Mr. Toope, our teacher, would foam at the mouth, and my friend Liol would wonder, bewilderingly to be sure, what the problem was. He was only doing what he was told to, or, so he would claim, you can be sure. But, he never had the nerve to do it the night of the concert. We might be laughing still.
Edward Combden: The Globe & Mail, a national newspaper, carries a daily column, excepting Saturday, entitled ‘Lives Lived.’ It is a well-read piece, in which someone writes a mini-biography of an ordinary person who has made a more than ordinary contribution to a segment of Canadian society. The column would not likely include politicians, judges, prelates, scions, and the like. There would no doubt be other space for them, but it wouldn’t probably be as well read. I was surprised, but perhaps shouldn’t have been, when recently I read that a Fogo Islander, the late Edward Combden, being chosen for its subject. Edward, as most Fogo Islanders know, died on Christmas Day, 2012. You can read that piece in the Pilot this week.