April 16, 2007
The sky was still deep blue, the colour of dawn, when I woke up. One glance out the window, and I could see that we'd gotten snow, the kind of heavy, wet snow that comes in April. It was the kind of snow that packs easy. It's fantastic for snowball fights: you can just reach down and grab a handful. It's very effective for closing elementary schools and making roads hazardous.
I pulled on my winter coat and boots and wandered into the yard. The river birches, the trees closest to the house, were bent all the way to the ground, branches and trunks weighed down by heavy snow. How strange they looked, the tops of the branches, the tips that usually touch sky, buried now under several inches of wet snow. The branches were bent but not broken. I planted these trees myself, and I knew they would survive the storm. They are native to this area, with branches so flexible that they can withstand high winds and heavy snow and ice.
The woods behind my house, on the other hand, are filled with all kinds of trees, and the scotch pines, planted in the 1930s by the CCC, are not native. Many are dying, and their trunks are rigid. On windy days, you can hear them creak. This morning as I stood in the yard and listened, I could hear a tree falling. First a crack, then a whoosh, and a thump. I know when I go for my next walk in the woods, I'll find all kinds of branches and trees down.
In class, my students were talking about the weather, the snowball fights they'd had walking to campus. Student From Southern State kept saying, "Is this what y'all meant by spring snow? I thought you were kidding!" We all knew the snow wouldn't last very long, and everyone seemed to be enjoying this one last snowstorm.
It wasn't until I had driven home early afternoon and opened my laptop that I read about the shootings at Virginia Tech.
It was hard to comprehend. Almost twenty years ago at Snowstorm University, where I used to teach, 35 of our students were killed in a terrorist attack, their plane blown up on their way home from the study abroad program that my daughter is currently attending. I can not imagine a tragedy on that scale happening in our classrooms and residence halls, the places where we work so hard to create a safe and nurturing community.
I walked into the living room to find my college-age son, who was sitting safely on my couch with his own laptop computer. "Boy in Black. Did you see –"
"Yeah," he said. "Virginia Tech."
We looked at each other. He's only eighteen, but he's the generation that remembers clearly the day the World Trade Center came down. Sadly, his generation is not even shocked or disbelieving when these things happen.
We didn't talk much about it. Every once in a while, Boy in Black would click to a news story and speak up with a number: the newest death toll.
Shaggy Hair went to the piano and played the songs he has been practicing. With-a-Why cuddled onto the couch next to his brother. My husband called home to talk and make plans for the evening. I made hot tea, and we ate the homemade apple pie my mother had sent over earlier in the day.
Outside the snow was melting. Big chunks of snow slid off the roof and to the ground. The river birches, their branches freed as the snow melted, straightened up like a group weary people rising to stretch their limbs at the end of a long day.
Posted by jo(e)