The snowflakes sail gently
down from the misty eye of the sky
and fall lightly lightly on the
winter-weary elms . . . .
No, those aren't my words. They belong to a young (at the time)Nigerian poet Gabriel Okara. I like to think that those words conveyed the feeling of his first experience of snow, his first sense of living in the North country. A young man in a new terrain.
Earlier today, it was snowing like that, and I, though old to winter's ways, remembered the young Nigerian's impressions. His words seemed as fresh to me as the sudden surprise of new falling snow. In that moment.
Later, the flakes stopped falling, and it was time to address the effect. That meant bundling up in coat, gloves, and boots, hoisting the shovel and clearing the walk and the driveway. My four year old son (a native St. Thomian) was eager to help. He donned leggins, mittins,heavy coat, and boots made for Alaska.
So we two scattered the snow from our front door, plowed a trench on what appeared to be our walk, then attempted to clear the driveway. I shoveled horizontally, in a straight line from one boundary to the other. At first, he did the same, but quickly changed to a different plan. On his little shovel, he'd push a heap of snow in my path. He'd want to stop and talk, not about the job but other things that came to mind–a crow perched across the street, the dirt beneath the snow . . .
. "Come on, son," I said, "shovel straight ahead. We got to get the job done."
Out of respect, I like to think, he did that for a few seconds. Then he dove into a spot unbroken by our labor, making snow angels, animal tracks. Moments later he called, "Daddy, daddy, let's go on a owl hunt!" I looked at the sky, a deep blush on the horizon, and remembered the often heard island saying, "red sky at night, sailor's delight."
But clearly, this was not St. Thomas. What it meant here was that high pressure was bringing in Canadian air. Everything would freeze hard overnight.
"Come on, son," I scold as I begin chipping away at the bottom level office. "We got to get this job done." He jumps on my shovel and looks at me with such delight and glee I almost laugh.
"Come on, daddy. It's dark. Let's go on a owl hunt!" He leans his back on my shovel pushing all forty pounds against the long handle.
What can I do but drop it.
Some island ways are inborn; others acquired. I think of a lifetime ago chasing iguanas with my daughters Chrissy and Christa. The bush surrounding our home in Frenchman's Bay was formidable but no impediment to success. Maybe I've been away too long. But thank God, it hasn't been that long. "Tu whit, tu wooo!" I sound out and throw the shovel aside. He runs past the black maple to the darkest part of the yard. "Tu whit, tu wooooo!" I call after him and follow.
Editor's note: Joseph Lisowski is a former professor of English at the University of the Virgin Islands.
WHERE THE FLAKES FALL
The snowflakes sail gently
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