Call of the wild


The bar had closed early due to the blizzard, and Nathan Greer was holding court in the wee hours.

"The stuff is alive, man," he said to the bartenders and waiters who'd gathered around him." I don't mean alive in the way all nature is alive, I mean alive like you and me. Snow has consciousness. It has personality and, I tell you what, it has a message, people."

Paul Winthrop sipped bourbon nearby and listened with jaded incredulity. Greer was the bouncer and a known blowhard.

"Exactly when it comes, the way it comes, how it falls, what it messes up, who it hurts, who it helps—there's a reason behind it all," Greer said.

Hannah Pearl, who had dated Greer off and on and found him mildly attractive, though a bit eccentric, rolled her eyes from across the table and poured him another Jack Daniel's.

"This latest snow is a tome written to all of us," Greer continued. "I'm still trying to decipher it. This is more than a simple message. This one is some multivolume offering that'll keep scholars busy all season.

"I know one thing it's saying: We're not supposed to be playing football indoors. We've been a joke ever since the Purple built a roof. A dysfunctional freak show, that's all we are now. We'll never see a Super Bowl as long as we're in that mausoleum."

Near the door, dishwasher Cal Pedro was putting on his jacket and shaking his head. "I've heard enough. Drive safe going home, everyone."

"Cal, c'mon, talk to the snow on your walk home," Greer pleaded. "Just ask it what it wants from you. You have 10 blocks of silent time to just listen. It's moving right past your ears, Cal. You think that's coincidence?

"Do you people honestly believe we're supposed to have all these automobiles on the roads? Are we meant to smother the highways with massive, wasteful machines? Look out on these streets. The stranded, abandoned cars now appear as little more than litter. Are you hearing the message? And we complain about going out and having to push them, exerting ourselves like mankind did for millions of years before the dawn of this so called Information Age. Don't you see? The snow is begging us to get back out in the fresh air and move our damn bodies."

Dee Murphy threw a maraschino cherry and hit Greer in the forehead. The group erupted in laughter, and even Greer smiled, knowing he was at least entertaining, if not informative.

"What is everybody in town doing tonight?" Greer asked. "Settling in somewhere, with friends and family, hunkering down, slowing down, being with people they're closest to. Can anyone tell me that's not what we all need more of in our lives? The snow is yelling at us, gang. Look out the window. Is that not a primal scream?"

The bar manager weighed in as he set a last chair atop a last wooden table: "Yeah, and the sun whispers to us every morning to lighten the hell up."

"That may be," Greer shouted, turning his head sharply to the back of the bar. "But I'm not a sun guy, I'm a snow guy. That's what I study.

"Snow absorbs sound. Did you know that? It lowers all sound over a particular landscape because the air that's held in place between snowflakes attenuates vibration. That sound can be captured, held, and then released and heard. I've been listening to it all my life."

The bar began to clear out. Winthrop said Greer had allowed the whiskey to take him across the line from avuncular iconoclast to flailing gasbag.

"The snowflake itself is made up of a thousand different water molecules, Paul," Greer replied. "These are added to the heart of the flake at different rates and patterns depending on the temps and humidity in that specific stretch of air the flake is falling through. It then shapes itself accordingly, wondrously, beautifully. It's attuned to its environment like nothing on earth. It develops wisdom over its travels and imparts that wisdom to those who will listen.

"Don't stick your head in the sand, people. Stick it in the snow. Go snow blind if you must, but don't be snow deaf. Leave the icicles on those houses of yours. These are nature's antennae allowing us to receive important information."

Outside, the falling blanket muffled Greer's voice, as flakes flew past the window by the trillions. Seventeen inches would become a monstrous hand, coming up from behind and covering the mouth of the town.