Burton on the Bay
- And when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own,
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of the firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,
A universe of sky and snow!
The old familiar signs of ours
Took marvelous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn crib stood,
Or garden wall, or belt of wood.
John Greenleaf Whittier:Snow-bound, A Winter Idyl, 1865
One hundred-thirty-eight years later, and in Maryland of all places, once again I could appreciate the vivid description of Whittier, one of my favorite New England poets a position he shares with Robert Frost and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
What better words could describe the bleached-white world visible from the big bow window on the east side of the Burton household the Sunday morning past? It was an alien landscape. The Burtons were snowbound and would remain so until mid-afternoon Tuesday when the first post-storm snowplow pushed through Park Road that parallels Stoney Creek in North County.
You might say we remain snowbound, for still in the driveway two vehicles are encased in virgin snow as well as the freshly regurgitated frozen, soiled and wet weighty snow scattered by the plow. As I write, wife Lois, granddaughter Jenny and her beau, Haj, are shoveling and chipping ice in their battle to reconnect us with the outside world.
I have done my time with the shovel, but in my 77th year, my back is stiff and creaky, and they are so much younger than I. Also, I have a column to write indoors. These same three wore their pajamas inside out last Friday and Saturday nights, the contemporary way of praying for enough snow to close schools and shut down places of work.
They got sufficient white stuff to not only shut down schools and work, but to shut down everything else across Maryland for days. To their chagrin, Monday was a school holiday, so they would have been off anyhow. Tuesday they picked up as a bonus, and it was just announced that Wednesday wont see any school in Anne Arundel County. Thursday?
It has been many, many years since I have seen so much snow. A TV station informed us that in Pasadena north of Severna Park (and of which Riviera Beach is a subdivision), it fell to a depth of 30 inches. This storm is now claimed to be a record for Maryland, except in the westernmost counties where Ive heard via Johnny Marple of Deep Creek Lake there were 57 inches in Garrett County with drifts higher than 20 feet in some mountain sectors.
Thats about double of what we got hereabouts and were griping?
When snow falls to several inches or more, its the same old story: a fresh new world to behold followed by inconvenience and work. Long ago, I learned to appreciate the first hours of the new day following the storm. Whittier couldnt have described it better than he did in writing We looked upon a world unknown, On nothing we can call our own.
On the east lawn of the homestead Sunday morning was our world unknown. It was like going into a large house that has been shuttered for a season, or for years, with all the furniture concealed within draped covers so that only flowing and curved outlines are visible.
Our wood pile was a mound of snow, long but curved at the top. The 40-gallon galvanized containers of various bird seeds and cracked corn looked like steeples jutting up from the clouds. My swinging settee of wood by the garden had taken on the shape of an igloo with no entrance tunnel. The bird bath had become a large round snowball atop a field of white.
In the garden, a big black metal silhouette of a humming bird on wing barely rose above the snow; hidden below was all 30 inches of the pole that held it. At the moment, it was the only birdlife evident, though that would soon change.
In the midst of the large lawn from the snow in its graciously curved and smooth lines poked the tip of a fishing rod with a lure dangling on a line. I knew that below it was a two-and-a-half-foot ceramic lawn figure of a barefoot boy toting a large fish. Even his broad-brimmed hat was encased in the white stuff.
Maybe its corny to say, but it was a different world to behold. So from the porch with several inches of fine snow filtered through the screen, I marveled at this strange new world. But I tarried not for long. There was much to do, and caring for wildlife was at the top of the list.
Wonders on Wing and Paw
The lawn was vacant of life. The last time I had seen a creature outside was midday Saturday, and then I had only seen the last part of it. Only the raised tail of a squirrel was visible as it zig-zagged through the snow for seeds I had scattered only minutes before, already mostly hidden beneath the flakes.
It wasnt easy Sunday making it to the big containers of bird seeds (foolishly I had neglected to carry a smaller container to the porch), and shoveling a 40-foot path was out of the question. But I made it, filled several protected feeders and scattered a gallon of seed on the snow. There would be no safflower seeds; that smaller container was buried deep beneath the snow. I couldnt make it to the hanging thistle feeders, so I scattered those seeds atop the snow.
Where they came from so quickly I do not know, but by the time I was back on the porch, the lawn was alive with birds: junkos, cardinals, sparrows, finches, blackbirds, chickadees and other snowbirds. Not long thereafter, I was to see two robins willing to accept seeds in lieu of insects and worms normally preferred.
But the icing on the cake came shortly after I came indoors, when in the corner of my eye briefly appeared a Baltimore oriole in all its orange glory. This was only the second time I had seen one on the lawn in the 30-plus years I have lived here. I saw it only for a moment and wasnt certain of my ID until I compared it quickly with the red of a male cardinal nearby, both flitting over the outside edge of the scattered seed.
Obviously, the woods on the cliff descending to the Stoney Creek had been filled with hungry birdlife. The storm had lasted more than two days, as had the one that inspired Whittiers Snowbound. Wildlife has to eat. But where are the squirrels?
It is now early darkness of Tuesday, and the last sign of bushytail life was that tail in the snow on Saturday afternoon. Not a one has been seen in the birdseed piles (though the surface of the snow is firm enough to accommodate one) or in the branches on the barren trees of the cliff. Yesterday, I added peanuts to the pile, but they only brought bluejays. No squirrels tomorrow will bring worries.
One Last Wonder
Ive just been told Lois new Camry is pretty much freed of snow and probably capable of making it to the one plowed open lane of Park Road. Once we accomplish that later tonight, my ancient four-wheel-drive Subaru will be available. Lois had parked her vehicle temporarily ahead of mine, but the snow piled up so quickly we couldnt get hers out of the way. So mine with its excellent traction was snowbound.
A few minutes ago, at the edge of dark the first mail came and just what we needed. Comprising the whole packet were Lands End and LL Bean catalogues plus several circulars. The apologetic mail carrier confessed that the trucks from Baltimore failed to make it to the Riviera Beach Post Office. Thus no first-class mail had arrived.
But the mail must get through, were told, so he was obliged to cart what was available: junk mail. He also confessed he had been stuck several times in making his rounds.
In the year I newspapered in Alaska and a boyhood in Rhode Island and Vermont, Ive dug out much sooner from storms carrying four or more feet of snow. Now I must concede the only one that ever really got me snowbound was the Blizzard of 03. In Maryland!