Archive for the ‘Blog-O-Drama’ Category

Death of a Snowman by Tom “AM” Starland

Sunday, February 21st, 2010


The Incredible Shrinking man – a Blog-O-Drama

He started his journey one gray and dreary Friday afternoon, but before his arrival – these are the facts leading up to that point.

We were expecting rain and forecasters had called for chances of snow by the end of the day – a story we had heard many times before, yet most people’s hopes were always shattered with a million glances at the sky and their outdoor thermometers. Friday started much the same except there was no rain – dark gray clouds, but no rain. By 3pm small flakes of snow began to fall, but the temps were still at 34 degrees and every individual flake disappeared as it hit the ground or any other surface. A quick check at the Weather Channel showed rain covering our area. This was unusual.

I had over 25 years of experience with snow from my days of living in Michigan – a state where they say if you don’t like the weather – just wait ten minutes and it will change. I knew the signs of snow well. I also knew the horrible things that come with snow – things many of us northern refugees never speak of – we don’t want to revisit the pain.

My son Andrew claimed it must be colder than 34 degrees as it was snowing, but I told him it can be much colder high up above in the clouds to cause snow flakes to form and fall, but the surface temperature was much more important for accumulation, and accumulation is the name of the game for folks in these parts.

We saw snow falling in our small community on the eastern shores of Lake Moultrie – Bonneau, SC, just last year in November. For over four hours big fluffy flakes fell from the sky, but all committed suicide upon touching the ground. There was no accumulation. Accumulation hadn’t happened since the Christmas of 1989, over 21 years ago – after Hurricane Hugo devastated our area and the greater Charleston, SC, area as well as anything in it’s path up through I-26 to Columbia, SC, then on through I-77 to Charlotte, NC, and beyond, roaring at over 100 mph. We decided to visit relatives in Rhode Island for the holidays that year – and to enjoy some snow with our then two year old son. Later we learned we missed the longest sustained snowfall in recent Charleston history. I didn’t feel like I missed a thing.

By 4:30pm, the snow was still coming down, but the thermometer still read – 34 degrees. I told my son – we’ll see what happens after the sun goes down. If there is going to be any accumulation – if – it will show signs on the top of the cars in the yard – at least those that had not been driven that day. The cold hard steel is a good breeding ground for accumulation.

By 5:30pm, signs of slush were showing on the tops of two cars in the yard. Could it be happening? Were all the planets coming into alignment – as the weather forecasters claimed would be needed for the elusive accumulation effect. Checking the thermometer – it read 33 degrees.

By the time the unseen sun was setting on the lake out front, patches of white were showing on the tops of cars and other surfaces above the ground, but I knew that wasn’t enough to ensure ground accumulation – the real deal. But, it was enough to encourage me to dig out the digital still camera and plug in the digital movie camera to charge its internal batteries. Maybe there would be something to record on tape – perhaps a final message to loved ones or a final sign-off for humanity – who knows.

At 6:30pm I started dinner. My wife Linda would be home around 7:30pm after a 12-hour shift at the local 911 dispatch office. She called at 7:05pm and said snow was on the roads and they had been dealing with accidents all over the county for the last few hours.

I chuckled – Southerners just can’t drive in snow – much less rain for that matter. They just don’t know to slow down and they have no experience or memory of what to do in adverse weather conditions when behind the wheel of a car. They think they’re driving a snowplow. Elevated viaducts and bridges freeze up before other parts of the roads as the cold wind blows under them.

Linda had to pass over the dreaded Tail Race Canal bridge before she got home. My thoughts were – will I ever see her again? But, I didn’t say it, it wouldn’t help to call her attention to the dangers she faced.

I said, “Surely the Highway Department in Monck’s Corner would already be spreading sand on the bridge,” – they don’t use salt much in the South – they save it for cooking vegetables. But, she said they had no reports of that activity at work, so she said she would be taking it slowly. I just hoped some Yahoo wouldn’t ram into the back of her on the way home.

As I opened the door to look outside after turning off the phone – it was there – accumulation! There was about an inch on the ground and it was coming down hard. I started to have flashbacks to dark times in Michigan – then I came out of it when I heard something boiling over in the kitchen.

Linda finally made it home with stories of cars scattered along the sides of the road, and now there was at least two inches of accumulated snow – maybe more. We ate what could have been our last hot meal and then someone – I think it was our son – yelled – “Let’s go outside and play in the snow!” Oh, if he only knew what I know – he wouldn’t be so eager to venture into what some folks call – white death.

So like moths drawn to a bright light – we dressed for winter conditions. I told my son he would need more than flip-flops on his feet to deal with what was lurking outside.

As we opened the door, our faces were instantly pelted with stinging white flakes of cold moisture. You’ve heard about acid-rain? This wasn’t anything like that at all, but my brain was exploding with memories I had hoped had long faded to oblivion. And, the next thing I know a ball of solid ice whizzed past my head – missing me by millimeters. I heard the woosh and it was all coming back – my winter nightmares had found me – deep in the heart of Dixie.

Before I knew it – my misguided son was rolling a ball of snow around the yard – bigger and bigger and bigger. Did he know what he was doing? Did I transfer some weird wolverine genes to him?

I looked over towards the direction I last saw Linda and shouted to her fuzzy figure, “Do you see what he’s doing? Is this what we raised him to do? Tell him to stop!” but I could see – she was too far gone herself – she had this strange grin on her face and had her arms raised to the sky as if manna was falling from heaven. I asked myself, “Am I the only one who knows what’s happening here – what could happen? Has the world gone insane?”

I could hear little children screaming in the distance. They were probably lost – strayed too far from the safety of their front doors into the white wilderness – never to be seen by their parents again. Innocent fools.

I think I blacked out for a period of time or could have gone snow-blind, but the next thing I remember, I was helping my son lift this big mass of snow onto another massive boulder of snow and before I knew it – he was there – standing in front of our home. They called him – Snowman, but I knew him by other names – like “He who shall not be named” and “Mr. Fezzywink”.

He stood there silent as the pyramids and almost as big.

Friday evening around 8:30pm

I asked, “What do you want? Why are you here?” He said nothing. He just stood there and starred at me with the blankest look on a face I’ve ever seen – except for Sarah Palin at a news conference. But, that wasn’t funny now and he didn’t catch my thoughts as he didn’t laugh either.

I shouted, “Is this about global warming?” He said nothing. I replied to his continued silence, “I’m a believer you know.” I had seen the movie, The Day After Tomorrow. I knew global warming doesn’t mean the earth will heat up – it cools down – in fact freezes over. He just starred back at me. The silence was maddening.

I starred back at him and asked, “Is this about Girl Scout cookies? If it is, I can buy a few boxes – if that’s what you’re selling,” but he just stood there as silent as the SC Arts Commission about one of my blog entries.

Well, I had enough. I was cold, wet and had already missed an episode ofTwo-and-a-half-Men I may have already seen a dozen times and there were better things to waste my time on – inside. He can stand out here all he wants in this continuing onslot of falling snow. If he’s not going to talk – I’m going to walk.

I went inside gesturing to the others to do the same – someone had to be a voice of reason – as I reached for the doorknob -an ice ball hit me square in the back. I didn’t even look back, I wasn’t going to give whoever it was the attention they so desperately needed.

In my younger days I would have closed the door behind me, ducked down out of sight, and quickly run to another door leading out to the back yard and sneaked up behind my attacker with two handfuls of payback, but I was much wiser now – I just turned and locked the door. We’ll see how they like spending the night with our silent friend. Unfortunately the person at the door was my better half, my voice of reason, and the person I would rely on to proof this blog entry – so I opened the door and two people slipped in. After a quick count, I knew we had all returned safely. I lifted the blinds on the door – our tall silent visitor was still there – giving me his back now.

OK. We’ll see if he’s still there in the morning and if he is – he’ll be talking or he won’t be staying long. Like Michigan, the weather in South Carolina can change on a dime. It could reach 60 even 70 degrees during the winter on any given day. And, even if it is 40 degrees – if the sun is shining – it can seem like 50 degrees. This isn’t going to be like 1989 – I saw the extended weather forecast.

Linda had to work Saturday and she was bemoaning the missed opportunities to play more in the snow the next day. I guess she could see the look on my face as she asked, “What?” I asked, “You want to play more in the snow? What! – with him?” Was this stranger here to take my woman?

We had left the outside lights on so we could see how long the snowfall would last so later I walked to the nearest window and peered outside to see him standing there. I thought to myself, “We’ll see how you feel after a sleepless night – bright lights will keep you awake and I might even encourage our son to crank up the Rock Band.” If I learned anything from the Bush administration – if – it was to treat your captured to bright lights and rock & roll. I might even waterboard him in the morning or would that be “snowboard” in this case?

By 11pm, we began to settle down for the evening (you can only take so much of an Olympic Opening Ceremony) and one more glance outside showed that the snow was still coming down. Maybe we will get the six inches predicted on the late news. As a 911 dispatcher Linda doesn’t get snow days. When a hurricane comes she doesn’t get to hit the roads like the rest of us – she has to pack her bags and move into the operations center. She had called for a patrol car to pick her up in the wee hours of the morning to take her to work. The roads would be like driving in a bumper car ride at the local fair for the poor folks who had to go to work on this Saturday morning.

It was a restless night, I got up just after 3am and went to the window – I think it had stopped snowing, but my eyes were blurry so I couldn’t be sure. When I woke the next morning just before 7am I jumped to the window like I was a kid racing to the Christmas tree to see what Santa had brought.

Wow, what a sight – it was what some call a winter wonderland – right here in Bonneau! The skies were clear and I quickly dressed and grabbed my cameras to make sure I got this all on the record – as it wouldn’t last long. I woke our son who may have just gone to bed a few hours before so he wouldn’t miss the sights and we both started to explore this new world outside. Our visitor was still there as silent as ever, but he was all fluffy now. His new look didn’t fool me one bit.

About 7:30am Saturday morning

About an hour later Saturday morning

We quickly discovered we had gotten almost 8 inches of snow and it was all the good kind of snow – snowball snow – good packing snow. And, yes, several times that morning I just caught a projectile heading towards me in time to dodge out of the way – my old instincts were returning from the fog of former wars.

As the amazement of this winter scene faded we realized that it was cold outside – very cold and our feet and pant legs were wet once again. This was a morning for pancakes. So we returned inside and I started the process – staring several times outside – wondering about our silent sentinel friend outside in between flipping cakes. Was he really a friend or what I expected – a foe? What did he want? Was this a sign? A harbinger of the future? I didn’t know, but I did know we wouldn’t have to put up with him for long.

After all, I had work to do – Friday was deadline day for our March 2010 issue of Carolina Arts and it was now a race to pull the paper together and hand it over to the printer. So most of my day was spend at the computer, plus the Winter Olympics had started Friday evening and I listened to some of the events in the background as I worked. Off and on I would need to go downstairs to the kitchen to get something to drink, have lunch, prepare for the next dinner – as I passed by doors and windows downstairs I could see the snow was fading and the wind was blowing the snow out of the trees. By sundown Saturday the scene outside was a whole different picture and the man standing just outside our door – he didn’t look so fluffy anymore. In fact, he looked more to his true character – dirty – with bits of leaves and small sticks covering most of his body. And, he didn’t stand so tall – so confident – so demanding.

I asked, “Would you like a cup of hot tea or cocoa?” to get a rise out of him. He said nothing. “The weatherman says it’s going to get cold tonight – down in the 20′s,” but as I said it I thought I saw a slight smile on his face and realized – that was a factor in his favor. The colder the better for him. Regaining my composure I added, “That’s OK, don’t worry – the highs tomorrow will be in the 50s and bright sun – all day.” He just stared back and I went back inside to cook another wonderful meal for my family.

But, Sunday turned out to be a partly cloudy day and I discovered that this wise guy had chosen just the right spot to stand in our front yard – in shade most of the morning, an hour of sun and then it slipped (the sun that is) behind a massive tree in our yard and again only an hour of direct sun during the late afternoon. And, like most days – an hour before sundown – the sun slipped down below a bank of clouds across the lake.

Yet, it was not totally a perfect Carolina day for this star of the silent screen. He was shorter, filthy as ever and his arms were beginning to droop.

Late Sunday afternoon

I instructed him, “It’s not just the sun that is your enemy my good man – it’s the temperature too”. The 50 degrees had taken its toll. I wouldn’t have to put up with his glaring stare for too much longer. Before I returned to the warmth of our home, I asked him one more question – “Why does the Porridge bird lay its eggs upside down in the air?” He said nothing. My final reply of the day was, “Well then, you better stay on the yellow rubber line.”

I was having flashbacks. That was a line from a Fireside Theatre album from my college days. This guy was really getting on my nerves.

I think it was Monday or Tuesday when this silent stranger lost his head. It didn’t fall off – it just shrunk away. There was no hope of him talking now. His message, whatever it was would remain unknown. I didn’t care – I just wanted him out of here. He was blocking my parking space. Friday night as the snow collected in that large tree in our front yard I moved two of our cars out of the way of possible falling limbs – even in a good rain shower we lose branches – left and right.

By Wednesday morning it looked as if this joker’s head had returned, but on closer inspection his middle had shrunk away to what looked like a head. He was going fast. There was a growing pile of leaves, bits of twigs, and whatever else came off the ground as he was being made – all around this mound of dirty snow, yet behind his dirty covering – the snow was as white as can be and still – snowball ready. There was also a wet puddle spreading out from around his bottom base. Our stranger was hemorrhaging his life’s blood.

Growing a second head – very clever

A day later, someone asked, “Are we just going to leave it there?” I thought to myself – gee, this guy has hung in there for five days after his arrival. What can we do – pitch him on the burn pile in the back yard, take him to the edge of the lake and give him a burial at sea (the lake does drain into the Atlantic Ocean in Charleston), or should we call 911? Who was I to make such a decision? You never know – it could snow again tomorrow, but I knew it wouldn’t. I finally decided – lets just see how long he lasts. After all, the Olympics were taking place – lets see if this guy has the stuff of Nordic champions. Does he have the endurance to go for the gold?

Not a good Thursday for our visitor

By Friday afternoon – this one time pyramid of a man – was nothing but a small misshapen ball. His arms lay scattered at what was once his sides. Yet, there was enough snow there for a few snowballs. I told the group standing around the door inside our house looking at what was left of this once menacing figure, “Do you realize that by 8pm tonight – we will have had snow on the ground in our front yard for a full week?” It was amazing. A little disgusting too, but amazing. This is South Carolina – coastal South Carolina – the Lowcountry!

Hanging in there for TGIF

At 8:30pm Friday evening – a full week later

My hat’s off to you little man. Actually my hat was off of him too, but I now admired this silent visitor for his endurance. Yet, I wonder what his mission was. Did he come to warn us? Did he come to scare us – like the Republicans? Or did he just come to show us what Mother Nature can do.

Early Sunday morning

By noon Sunday – a 65 degree day

Look, he was no Jack Bauer – a man of action, but he lasted for a longer time than I’ve watched 24, American Idol, or Fox News for that matter. But, I hope it’s another 20 plus years before anymore of his kind come around here. I lived in Michigan, I know what winter is like – South Carolina is no Michigan. And, I’m glad of that.

Sunday around 3pm – may he rest in peace

He left this world as we know it – Sunday afternoon – almost nine days after his arrival.