Monday, December 27, 2010

Midnight Snowing

When I walked to the studio, the blizzard of December 26th was in full fury. It was afternoon and already accumulations promised something of epic proportions. I have been working in the studio into the night. At around 9 p.m. I walked to the Space Market for some take out. No one was about. There were no footprints, no tire tracks. There was only the wind and the street lights filtered through gusts of snow. Trudging through the snow in the night storm for only a block was a struggle. Waverly Place had become a wilderness. Returning to the studio was also an adventure. The door to the building was blocked with snow even though I had been gone less than thirty minutes. I cleared the snow and opened the door.

Through the window in my studio, I saw the swirling snow, thick and turbulent, buffeting the street lamps, relentlessly screening the light in surging, shifting patterns. The intensity seemed to be escalating, ominous and fierce. Bursts of wind rattled the windows. It was as though the storm were demanding my full attention. I improvised a few answers from the keyboard as the blizzard blustered and bellowed in reply.

My earlier impression of the snow as I came to the studio in early afternoon was of the quiet stillness all around me, sounds muted by an eloquent mantle of silence. Midnight moved me to the next day, and now the night and the storm seemed to wait in ambush for me to venture outside. The snow had packed around the door. In addition, the doors had frozen. I pushed hard and broke the seal. Then I gradually cleared the snow by pushing the door like a shovel to clear a path.

Stepping outside I entered a tumultuous tempest that stung my face with icy blasts of snow. The wind was so strong that snowflakes felt like pellets. I tried to look ahead and could see only a few feet. There were no tracks in the snow. It was 12-14 inches deep. I moved forward and felt my boots sink into the snow. I couldn't even distinguish the steps to the ramp. so I clutched the railing and eased myself down to the snow-covered sidewalk. It was difficult to see where the sidewalk ended and the street began. I started toward home with some difficulty. Walking required more strength and energy than I had anticipated because of the depth of the snowdrifts and the strident wind and ice-like snow pellets stinging me in the face. Suddenly this setting that was so familiar became an alien terrain, and I felt lost and disoriented. I seriously began to wonder if I could actually make it to the apartment only a few blocks away.

Washington Place seemed to be like a canyon in a blizzard and the visibility was at best 20-25 feet. I walked in the middle of the street as I made my way toward Washington Place. Overhead, I could hear the wind ripping at the NYU Steinhardt flag. I heard thunder punctuating the sound of wind through the trees and corridors between buildings.

"So this is what it would be like if I were miles from civilization and trapped in such a storm with no shelter. There would be no way out." My apprehension grew as I made extremely slow progress toward Bleecker Street. No one was outside. There were no cars on the streets. In a city of millions I felt suddenly alone as though I were a stranger on an uninhabited planet, or maybe come upon a vanished civilization that had built these buildings and mysteriously disappeared.

The sounds of the storm became mesmerizing, and I labored with each step... the bitter cold was beginning to penetrate my coat and my face was freezing. My eyebrows became icy. Now it was becoming increasingly impossible to see. My glasses had iced over. They were useless. As I removed them, the blowing snow attacked my eyes. I stumbled and fell, but the snow cushioned my fall. I realized how foolish it was to think I could easily walk through such a powerful and hostile storm. Now my beard was frozen, and I was utterly exhausted. I managed to pull myself erect and continued on.

As I finally arrived at Bleecker Street, I thought how the elements had distorted my sense of time and space. A few blocks became an adventure in the twilight zone. My midnight encounter with the snowstorm reminded me of the awesome power of nature that challenges our artificial sanctuaries and fortresses of civilization. All of our achievements can be confronted and extinguished in the blink of an eye. The universe can be exceedingly cold and hostile.

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