December 5th was the first significant day of snow this Christmas season. For a form of precipitation that’s so lovely that I can be entertained by just spending a few hours watching it fall, it certainly does cause a commotion around here.
That morning before rush hour, less than an inch of snow had fallen in the Washington, DC – Baltimore corridor, but that snow had melted under tires and then frozen again and caused quite a bit of slipperiness on the roads around here. It was so slippery that an average car with average tires couldn’t be driven safely faster than an average of 50 miles per hour across all the streets in our area. Horrific! Had everyone been careful and behaved like reasonable drivers, commutes might have taken up to half again as much time.
But this would be a very short blog if I were just recounting how reasonable people are.
It turns out that people are not all reasonable. Just to point out how quixotic this season makes me, I can take a moment to reflect that I’m sure there were tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of cars out there in that weather, but I only heard reports of several car crashes. That’s not a bad percentage: several out of tens of thousands. Unfortunately, those few accidents by people who were driving inappropriately or with just a bit of misfortune in the passenger seat were enough to expand my 45 minute commute to such great lengths that after two hours I was still only one third of the way to my work. At one point, after I had been sitting still for a while and saw that I was just about to start moving, I had my GPS start tracking my rate and distance. After another half-hour, I saw that I was driving an average of three miles per hour! Even the first automobile invented by Mr. Benz could get up to eleven miles per hour. I think my car has better heating, though.
Ah, but a lousy commute can make for a blog entry any time of the year. The reason why I take the time to document it now is what I did to pass the time while I drove so slowly: I enjoyed it! I used my cellphone to take photos of the oppressive traffic and the blanketed trees. I listened to Christmas music and danced around in my seat and sang along at the top of my lungs. I waved people in front of me when they wanted to merge at four miles per hour. I waved to thank people when they let me cross over into their lanes. Sometimes, I just waved. I realize that my activities were not a productive use of my time, but it was okay. I’m not irresponsible; I checked in with my office, I offered up some consulting for projects on the phone, but it turns out that most of our clients also must have been stuck in bad weather because there wasn’t that much happening. So, I looked out my window and watched the snow fall. O, the snow fall!
I saw small flakes, so small that they could have been pinpricks of light in a dark room. I saw large chunks of snow that made me hunger for a flavored shaved ice treat. I even saw some flakes fall against my window that, just for a second, looked a lot like those paper snowflakes that I made in elementary school. I remembered how the flakes of snow were just bits of water and airborne debris that had coalesced together as the temperature dropped around those drifting molecules so high up in the sky. An ionic crystalline structure and random surface tension coefficients due to the mystery ingredients and a wintery freeze and suddenly you have little bits of very temporary jewelry. I have to admit, those little stars falling to earth might just be my favorite kind of decoration.
Then you take that jewelry, enough of it to make an airy, bouncy, handful, and spread that over some asphalt. Apply a ton or more of pressure and even though the environment around that thin sheet of dirty dihydrogen monoxide might not get any warmer so you could tell, the jewels become a tiny lake. Remove the pressure again and you leave behind a frozen trap for all the travelers who follow. That trap can turn deadly easily enough. That’s just cool.
I always appreciate the juxtaposition of contrasts. I like the transition from a bad state to a good state. A Christmas Carol makes for a compelling narrative because the bad guy becomes a good guy. It wouldn’t be as satisfying if the bad guy just stayed bad and got punished. The fact that snow is beautiful and peaceful and soft but can quickly transition into the hard, unforgiving cause of fatal accidents just makes me like it more.
I know that there are places where Christmas doesn’t coincide with any sort of snowy season, but it usually does where I live, so I decided that coincidence was enough of a justification to include these thoughts of mine in this string of blog entries. Besides, Christmas time for me is a time of transitions like the melting snow. It just so happens that I go in the opposite direction: I start off a bit frigid, I relax a bit, and somewhere around the end of December, I’m downright flaky. I like that!
I’m getting there already, I can tell. In fact, I’m going to go and play with my dog in the snow right now. If I don’t post again tomorrow, please send out a search party!