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The Shipwreck Rose: Snow Falling on Snakeroot

Wed, 01/10/2024 - 16:58

The children no longer take any interest in the foil-wrapped chocolate baubles I hide each December on the branches of the Christmas tree among the ornaments. It’s January now and before I shake off my sloth and traipse reluctantly into the living room to do the melancholy chore of taking down the decorations and the lights, I am eating chocolate baubles and watching the first snowfall from my cozy nook on the daybed, under a fuzzy throw, by the bedroom windows facing south to the (rather weed-filled) garden. It is quiet today, on a Sunday afternoon, and the snow is so light it only lingers a minute between the green blades of grass. The pods of the wisteria vine that has overgrown our kitchen door garbage bin click as they are nudged by the barely-there wind, a soothing sound, like a baby rattle.

Nothing feels better in 2024 than natural light and silence. We don’t get enough natural light and silence in 2024. Gray days by the window and the snow softly falling, pell-mell.

Is the apocalypse nigh? Everyone sort of seems to think so.

Has the zeitgeist ever felt so apocalyptic? I don’t mean that kind of religious apocalyptic mass hysteria that the historical re-enactors on the History Channel — hamming it up in their chain mail and swinging their maces — say swept Europe in the Middle Ages, from time to time, when a comet streaked across the sky or the moon hid the sun in a total eclipse. I don’t mean that. I mean, has the world ever felt so apocalyptic in a general, disseminated, broadly blanketing sort of way? The calm apocalypse? The apocalypse we all seem to have assimilated, calmly, into the quotidian boredom of the day?

I had houseguests over New Year’s weekend and overheard one of them on the phone with her husband, calmly chitchatting about the need to plan an escape route from the Upper West Side. They had recently watched “Leave the World Behind” on Netflix — in which Julia Roberts’s Long Island beach vacation is interrupted by a mysterious blackout and the collapse of civilization. Was it feasible to set a rendezvous point outside Manhattan? How would they and their children reach such a rendezvous point if public transportation weren’t working during the apocalypse? Would the trains be running? Would their Mazda run out of gas? Do gas pumps rely on the power grid?

It will be some time before it becomes clear if it only feels apocalyptic out there because we don’t yet know how to cope with the advent of the internet. (The “hive mind” creates a homogeneity of opinion, and that homogeneity of opinion — driven by atavistic human nature forged when we wore bearskins and lived in clans in caves — is, by natural selection, over-focused on disasters, threats, monsters, social-code aberrations, and worst-case scenarios.) Or if it feels apocalyptic out there because it’s apocalyptic out there. Because we have destroyed the Earth ecosystem and are in a silent, calm, confused end-game race against the clock in which we have to get a grip on our consumption habits — on our collective id — or our weapons of mass destruction (literal weapons, like bombs, and metaphorical weapons, like runaway A.I.) will flip the switch that turns out the lights on human civilization.

What do you think: Flash-bang and then there’s nothing? Or a slow falling apart?

On the daybed, it looks this afternoon like a slow falling apart.

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice, but I don’t think it’s going to be fire or ice, but mud, mosquitoes, tropical fevers, and zoonotic disease. A swampy apocalypse with a few gulags thrown in.

I’m still under my cozy throw. My daughter calls from New Hampshire. She and her prep school pals have had an unforgettable day of pure teenage joy in the snow, up in New England. It fell 15 inches deep at Exeter overnight and the girls from her floor and the boys from the ice hockey team have been building an igloo in the quad in front of her dormitory, New Hall. The girls are videotaping one another as they make snow angels; the boys, in their dignity, refuse to lie down in the drifts. It’s not so much an igloo as a snow heap, into which they have burrowed, laughing hard, so their laughs come out in puffs in the cold, New Hampshire air.

People are excited on Facebook, here on the South Fork, and start asking for recommendations of sledding hills east of the Shinnecock Canal. Someone insists that the snow has already coated her car in Southampton; I doubt her.

Facebook friends comment on a sledding thread, reminiscing about the best sledding locations in days of yore when the ice formed 12 inches thick on Fort Pond Bay and they shipped trainloads of it to Fulton Market. Memories include Quail Hill in Amagansett, the slope behind the Bridgehampton Golf Club, and Weaver’s Hill off Georgica Road in East Hampton.

I post a reply: “If I told you where my secret sledding hill was, I’d have to kill you.”

Facebook deletes my comment and reports that I have violated the Meta community rules barring the incitement of violence. Oh, Facebook, you have no sense of humor.

Nettie calls again. She is back inside her dorm room at New Hall with her slippers on, the geothermal heaters humming, her snowy-day delight irrepressible. She reads aloud to me over Facetime a history-class assignment about the Industrial Revolution and robber barons. She reads aloud a passage from Howard Zinn, about how Congress in the 1870s twisted the 14th Amendment so it would protect corporations from oppression, rather than protecting human individuals, the formerly enslaved, from oppression. (Hint, hint: Facebook is what happens when you judge a corporation to be an individual, equivalent to a human person in the eyes of the law: You find yourself alone in your house, with Facebook for company, but she is a bad roommate who just doesn’t get your sense of humor.)

According to my collected photographs on Facebook — the repository of memories for middle-age moms — the last great day of sledding my kids had at our top-secret sledding location was in January of 2017. I remember that day, crystal clear. We piled five cousins and six sleds in the back of a pickup truck: a metal Flying Saucer, a plastic saucer, a vintage Flexible Flyer (the kind with the steel runners that could slice off a few fingers in case of accident), and three of the big, plastic kind you buy at the superstore checkout in winter. The snow wasn’t deep and crisp and even enough for the old-school, metal-runner one, which the kids gamely tried out and then left in the back of the truck, but the lightweight plastic sliders really flew, and the kids, still so young, towed them by their leashes back up to the top, over and over again, until the sun was going down on the far side of the hill.

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