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snow in the desert

February 25, 2010

I remember snow in the desert…

It has been snowing for all of February here in Ohio. And it is beautiful, piling over bushes and decks and roads and trees, but it doesn’t compare to the desert snow. When it snowed in Rock Springs the whole world was silent. Here in Ohio, even at night if you stand outside you can hear traffic and other sounds of civilization. In Rock Springs people were a little more sensible and after about 9:30 it used to be that there were nearly NO vehicles on the road. (Of course, by eastern standards there was little traffic on the Rock Springs road anyway. Even today there is probably an average of only six to ten cars per hour.) But once everyone was home for the day they stayed there and the night was entirely given over to the falling snow.

Linda Maddox, my roommate and coworker, and I liked to walk in the snow. In fact we liked to walk in the desert any time, but when we walked in the snow everyone thought we were particularly insane. We would bundle up in boots and long skirts with hose and knee-high socks and coats and scarves and heavy gloves and hike up the road or over to the windmill or along the cliffs. It was neat to walk in the falling snow and listen to the silence. It was just as much fun to scream and laugh into the silence.

One time Joe McCormick, the missionary’s teen-aged son, decided he’d go with us to see why we liked it so much. When Linda and I began bundling up he got his jacket and said he was going along. We didn’t mind but we did try to get him to dress a little more warmly. The snow that night was coming down in a brisk wind and the temperature was dropping so we knew it was going to be cold.

Joe insisted he’d be okay and, without even hunting up a hat or a pair of gloves, waited patiently while we put on extra sweatshirts under our coats and added a scarf around our necks between our coat collars and our ski hats. And we started out. It was exhilarating to walk with the wind whipping our skirts around and blowing in our faces. We hiked along the road, talking and laughing. We had only gone what would be about a block and a half in town when we noticed Joe hunching deeper and deeper into his jacket.

By the time we began to notice, Joe was seriously cold. His hands when he pulled them out of his pockets were ‘frozen’ in a clench, but it was his ears we were most worried about. He only had on jeans and plain leather shoes. He was cold enough that when we shoved him into an old bus shelter he went without complaining.. Once out of the wind, we began taking stock of just how cold he was.

It is a good indication of how serious the situation was when I say that Joe actually admitted that his toes were like pieces of rock and he had no feeling in his hands or his ears. And he was shivering non-stop. Neither Linda nor I were cold except for our noses and cheeks which were still only tingling-chilly—but then we had dressed for the walk.

Our dilemma was that it was just as far back to the mission as it was to the bus shelter. If Joe was this cold here, could we get him back to the house before his ears or hands were seriously damaged? As we huddled in the shelter of the tumble down walls Linda and I pulled off the scarves we’d wound around our necks and wrapped Joe’s hands and head in them. His hands didn’t work at all so he could only stand and shiver as we wrapped him up. We told him to put his face in the opening of the scarf at his wrists and breathe in it for a little bit to try and warm up his hands. The scarf tied tightly about his head and neck was funny looking to say the least, but as soon as his ears were pressed tight against his head they began to warm up until at least they were tingling instead of numb. We couldn’t do anything at all about his feet.

As soon as his hands and ears had some feeling back in them, we decided to head back. Our tracks from our walk to the bus shelter were already gone. But we knew the road and there was a bright blur where the mission was so we were in no danger of getting lost. We gave one more tug to the tails of the long scarf around Joe’s head and tucked them into the zipper of his jacket. We pulled the scarf around his hands tight and tied a knot in it so there was no danger of it coming loose in the wind.

I don’t know if it had really gotten colder while we crowded together in the bus shelter or not, but when the wind hit us it certainly felt colder, especially for poor Joe. It seemed to take forever to get back to the house. It was a snow storm, but if Linda and I had been alone we probably would have walked further. Then consider: we were used to walking in the cold and we were dressed warm enough that we weren’t even uncomfortable. It seemed longer because we were really worried about getting Joe home.

Well, we made it back and Joe took a lot of teasing from his family for coming back wrapped up in girls’ scarve. He didn’t even get a runny nose from the experience, but it wasn’t something he liked to talk about later. After all two girls had to bring him home. That’s hard on a sixteen or seventeen year old kid. Love you, Joe. Wherever you are.

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