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There's enough snow on the ground from our latest storm to cover the Sahara with a nice rich frosting. Schools are closed, the road outside is deserted but for the wayward tire track of the snow plow. No animal prints to observe or admire. Just the deeply pleated ermine cloak winter has dropped flirtatiously on her way off stage. Makes you ache all the more for the scent of a single rose or the cry of a bird seated atop her clutch of eggs. We are marooned like a gambler who has lost everything at the casino and has nowhere to go but to gaze out of the window at the yachts gently pulling on their shrouds. Such silence and formality remind me of last rites, or the dimly lit apse where a coffin has been put on its bier for the ceremony. A cough in the back pew is the only sign you are not alone.

            It was Sunday and it is my job to go to the super market to buy the NY Times and the local rag, the Rutland Herald Tribune. I buy the Times for the front page news and the crossword puzzle, a ritual of mine from when I was in college. The Trib is for the obituaries, to see if there's anybody we know, and of course for the local doings in town. I put on a fleece-lined jacket and my fedora, a scarf and open the front door. The screen door didn't seem too happy to see me; I had to push pretty hard to get it to open  half way. It was trying to tell me to stay home, I think. The snow outside was as deep as I had ever seen it in Vermont, over two-feet deep, approaching three feet. I closed the front door behind me and stepped down into what felt like some massive feather bed, with the snow oozing into my shoe tops and getting close to my knees. I put my left foot forward and felt myself floating into a white cloud of mysterious gravity. I kept sinking down. It was a few more inches deeper than what my right foot had felt. I sensed trouble. What if I fell?

            When I got half-way to the pickup, I was like John Cleese taking absurdly exaggerated footsteps on the way to the Parliament. I felt a dull thrill run up my spine as I struggled to pull up my left foot to make more begrudging progress. But it wouldn't come loose. There were icy hands holding it back, and my right foot was dangling in space and had nowhere to go to find balance. The result was a thrust of power from somewhere that pushed me backward and I reeled as I came to a mushy thud on my back. No problem, I told myself. Just roll over like a kid might do and push up from my knees. But the snow was so spongy I couldn't quite get my legs to obey me. I was half turned but not enough to gain a grasp on the intangible ground below me. I thrashed a bit, and twisted my legs until they seemed to go numb and sluggish. I didn't have enough will power to get to a sitting position, much less something less coiled up. I was stuck. The cold was beginning to enter my clothes and to caress my legs with a kind of pain killer. I knew that most people who had nearly frozen to death on Everest complained of feeling sleepy. Drowning people have said something like that as well, a willingness to give in. No worries. Just let it happen. Yawn, if you have to. But quit thrashing.

            But I was too eager to pull away from these strange arms that had pinned me down. I groaned as the arms gathered more power over me and seemed to squash me at the edge of the snow. I was peering over the white rim of a wave that had stopped curling and was merely there, glazing my face. So I pushed down hard and one leg unfolded a little, but not enough to allow me to pivot onto my knees. The house loomed over me, and I called out in a hoarse rasp for my wife to come. I could hear the shrillness in my voice, a fear I hadn't uttered in a long time. But there it was, clear as glass beginning to crack.

            Snow lets a dentist drill right through your cavity into the jawbone without a whimper from you; you hold his hand delicately as he plunges ever deeper into the floor of your unconscious and lets the drill bit unpack his ropes and pulleys to lower down into the cradle of your memory, the first colors, the blunt noises, the taste of sugar, the bitter edge of an animal's cry of fear in the zoo cage. The dentist smiles down at you, and you have no complaints for such invasion of your secret self. You are transparent, the cellophane your mother rips open to get to the ground meat. Snow erases your mind one layer at a time, the immediate bearings you have as an adult, and then the moist underlayers that contain your secrets and embarrassments, your cherished recollection of a woman's kiss, her willingness to be seduced in the back seat of your father's car as the big black and white screen looms over you like a glacier breaking up into calves and purplish fractures. There are profound booms and mumblings and suddenly, as you look up out of the gathering blankness of a coma is your wife coming to the front door, and disappearing again.

            She is looking for a shovel, a walking cane, my ski poles, but she is also calling our neighbor to come and help me. I told her I was too heavy for her to try and lift me. I couldn't help her. In a few grinding minutes of unraveling selfhood he showed up in his truck and came toward me carrying a swivel chair. He put it down and told me he would get me up to it. He did, too. I was at an angle in the white quick sand but he righted the chair and then got down his ice shovel and began to clear a path. Once done, he had hold of me from behind and guided my feet slowly toward the paved road a few feet away. He also cleared out four feet of snow between my pickup and the sedan. Mercifully, the truck started on the first crank, and he could work at getting the vast blubber of snow from the roof and the windshield. I was once more normal, a man with legs, a personality held together by a certain shared force of gravity.

            He drove away in the smoke of my profuse thanks. My tires struggled for traction and then shot back into the roadway and I was off to the supermarket. Not even the end of the normal world could dissuade me from getting my papers and some breakfast supplies. I was not to be deterred from the routines I now cherished. But I was in a state of shock, and it was hours before I realized that my cavernous fatigue was the aftermath of my great fear. I had been thrashing in an angry foam of nature right there in my front yard, not ten feet from my front door, but I might well have been in the Yukon in a blizzard, talking to Jack London about how Aleuts lit a fire in the coldest, most alien freeze a human could endure. He was laughing as I talked to him. We shared a cigarette and the last sip of his whiskey flask. Then he went back into the unknowable frontier of icebergs and glowing polar bears and the blur of a Yeti rushing to the horizon.

            You can't take for granted your daily routine. You don't know what malevolent arm of ice is going to topple you and devour your last breath. It's not possible to be so indifferent to the odds of your survival, and yet. most people are. I'm still tired, a little rough around the edges, giving into lassitude after eating. I sprawl in my chair and it's like being stretched out on a gurney in some medical tent on the side of a battlefield, with a doctor prodding my wound and changing my dressing as I lose blood. It's going to be there. There is a Ukraine behind every sunny day, a Gaza lurking down the next wrong turn on your way to work. An unswept convenience store is obscuring the fidgets of an addict whose gun is hidden from your sight, but whose bullets might very well be ready to soar through you like a gigolo's erotic urge in a dumpy motel room. Someone is behind you now, a kindly anonymous face that prefers not to say hello back to you, but would gladly hurtle you down the steps of a subway entrance and run away before the cops could catch him. It's how we live. It's what we have to abide to survive in a world that owes us nothing at all, and will not even think of trading favors with you until you give it something in return.




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