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And When the Weeds Begin to Grow It's Like a Garden Full of Snow Elizabeth Danson History is like snow. Numberless days have made their minuscule impact upon the world, none ever quite duplicated, most as unremembered as the hundredth flake of any snowstorm. Only after untold— UteraUy uncounted—biUions have accumulated do snowflakes amount to anything, and the same is true with the days and years and centuries and millennia that have gathered into Earth's prehistory and history. Snow hadfallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter, Long ago. The image in Christina Rossetti's Christmas hymn was the first, in early childhood, to give me the frisson induced by thoughts ofinfinity. It had the same mesmerizing effect as gazing out the window at falling snow until I wasn't fiflly sure I was stationary, and not floating upwards while the snow stood stiU. Ifthere is any wind at aU, a snowfall wfll shape itselfinto drifts that can teU the questioning eye the direction and speed of the wind during the storm. Even ifthe snow forms the smoothest sheet imaginable, the human impulse is to rumple it. We pretend regret at having to smirch that surface, but printing it with the story of our footsteps would deUght us even if it happened without the deUcious crunch, crunch of the conquest. And not only chüdren love to make snowmen. Adults who would never indulge in any other kind ofartistic activity get out there on the lawn with an urge to form the biggest or most interesting sculpture in the neighborhood. Such a medium! In an hour a figure can be buüt on a human scale, heroic compared to clay or play dough. 95 96Fourth Genre EmbeUishments are simple, indeed requisite, and even the timeworn carrot nose and twiggy arms look different with each new placement. Charles the First walked and talked Halfan hour after his head was cut off we chanted as we jumped over the skipping rope in our school playground; and at first I thought it was a very short ghost story. When I worked out the punctuation trick involved I was left with the plain tale of a king's mortality being the same as everyone's, if in this case more dramatic. It was a few years later that I encountered contradictory opinions of King Charles. Was he the romantic cavalier, last of the aU-powerful monarchs of Old England, beheaded by the kfll-joy Puritan Oliver CromweU, or was he rightfuUy executed by the parfiamentarians in the name of political freedom? Either way his head roUed, as that of any snowman could if we sat in judgment and decided that was what he deserved. In this way wejudge and categorize historic figures we have formed from our imaginations and desires. A few broken lines of Greek poetry suffice for the formation of a Sappho: she becomes the epitome of woman loving woman. Margaret Mead taught us much of what we know about the possibüity of innocent adolescent sex, at least in the Pacific Islands; or else she twisted her evidence into a romantic myth. A snow figure looks very different when it starts to melt. The cap may develop a rakish tut, arms may dissolve and the broomstick scepter faU, or one eye slip into a frozen palsy. John Kennedy does not appear the way he did when we set him up and placed the crown of Camelot on his head. The other thing we do with snow is form it into missiles. Sophistication adds forts and ammunition piles, but the simple urge to throw it is shared even by dogs, who toss it with their noses and throw their bodies into it. Without adult supervision, chüdren would not conceive of using snow to depict angels; they are not so sentimental about the supernatural. They would stiU fling themselves into snow-banks and imprint their shadows on the blankness, for children love snow because they can impress it. Also they can be purely physical with it. They revert to the oral compulsion that led them to put everything in their mouths as babies; they return...


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pp. 95-97
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