Monday, January 28, 2008


One of my favorite rhyming poems has always been John Greenleaf Whittier's "Snowbound." It was required reading in the old one-room country school. And we had a great teacher who was always ready and willing to explain to us anything we didn't understand. If we stumbled over words when reading aloud, she made sure we got the whole picture.
I have a copy of the long old poem somewhere in my files. One of these cold, wintry days I may try to dig it out and read it again. I liked the flowing rhyme. The story told of a rural family that was snowbound – held hostage on their farm – by a super-bad winter blizzard. It told of each of the members of the family (and several visitors) and how each reacted and what each contributed to the stranded group. Whittier had such a great way of describing things. He could paint pictures with words, and almost make us not only see, but also hear, feel and smell the inside of that farm home with its wood heat and its good food. He spoke of many things we farm kids were familiar with.
I don't know how good my memory is, or how accurate my quotes, but, as I recall, Whittier spoke of "The sun that bleak December day" as a "time-worn traveler" that eventually "sank from sight before it set." In preparation for the coming storm, the children "piled with care their nightly stack of wood against the chimney back." And he described the cold as "a chill no coat however stout, of homespun stuff, could quite shut out that dull hard bitterness of cold that checked mid-vein the circling race of life blood to the starkened face."
The visiting school teacher was described as "Stern wielder of the birchen rule, the master of the district school." But, with the family, around the fireside that night he dropped his stiff facade and became almost human. He "teased the mitten-blinded cat, played crosspins on my uncle's hat." The poem told of an unfortunate lady who "cruel fate had denied a fireside mate." Also of an uncle, a hunter and who described "How the teal and loon he shot and how the eagle's eggs he got." Yes, I will definitely have to read that great old poem again just to get the story and the quotes straight. I only hope that I can find it in the shambles I refer to as a "filing system."
Being stranded by a blizzard is not nearly as great a threat these days. Most snowplowing and sanding and salting crews do a prompt and an excellent job of making our streets and roads passable. The sudden loss of electrical power can make things a bit uncomfortable and unhandy, but here is a modern-day "Snowbound" tale of a family that doesn't have much trouble dealing with such a problem:


The winter day wore on so slow
We watched new, white snow drift and blow.
The wild wind played, as blizzards do,
A whistling tune up chimney flue.

We gathered 'round the hearth-fire's glow,
Safe from the outdoor wind and snow.
A quiet day for game and book;
We used the fireplace to cook

Foil-baked potatoes, steamy hot,
Coffee in an old-fashioned pot,
White popcorn mounds filled giant bowls
Sausage sputtered on glowing coals.

In darkness, at the end of day,
We watched the firelight dance and play.
The fireplace, chuckling with delight,
Taunted the cold, storm-battered night.

Time passed; we prepared to retire,
Spread sleeping bags near the warm fire.
Before we closed our eyes in sleep,
We prayed – a ritual we keep –

Counted our blessings, large and small;
Thanked each other, and God, for all
The precious gifts we have and hold...
Our shelter from life's cruel cold.

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