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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow in the Atlas

The day was bitterly cold and I pulled my jebada tighter about me as I walked up the main hill toward the village Post Office. Dark clouds hung heavy over the mountains toward the North and a chill breeze was beginning to blow through the streets, moaning and kicking up dust. Around me, men in jelabas pulled their hoods down against the dust and some of them sat in the cafes looking somberly at the churning sky.

The transit I boarded some time later was quiet; people chose not to speak, conserving what little warmth there was in that metal box. Crossing the pass above Busemoh, it was beginning to snow, stinging particles of ice that lashed sideways against the windows and formed strange shifting whorls on the pavement before us. That afternoon was spent in the village of Outerbate, sitting by a crackling woodstove and enjoying the company of one of my friends and neighbors on the mountain.

Just before sunset, it began. The wind had died and the snow fell thickly in curtains of fat, white flakes that streamed by outside the window and began to collect on the mud walls of the surrounding houses. Unseen in another part of the village, a mule brayed plaintively, but even that was muffled and then swallowed by the silence of the snow. Anyone who has spent time out in the winter snows can attest to the effect it has on sound, even the loudest shout disappears into the icy depths of a winter forest. All that can be consistently heard is a slight hiss, scarcely audible, of snow falling and collecting around me. Flake upon flake, crystals fusing together and crushing downward beneath the weight of their fellows. The sun the next day will melt the top most layer, crystals dissolving into liquid water only to refreeze beneath the light of the winter moon into fantastic spiraling shapes. Sediment will melt the surface layers faster, dust suspended in the atmosphere, borne in from the desert, leaving the face of old snow sun-cupped and agitated, like the ripples in a puddle during a heavy summer storm.

What storms in summer possess in violence and force, the snow makes up for in longevity. Like the dripping of a spring that erodes stone, the silent and steady force of falling snow is both light and heavy all at once. It covers the mountains in its silent blanket and the world is born anew with the coming of the morning sun.


A day later, only white streaks remain in the chill shadows of the peaks; beside walls and beneath the barren trees. Only these pale remains testify to the majesty of the winter storm. A rare gift of snow in the Atlas…