Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For those of us living in Washington this past week, we have found ourselves running out of words to describe the endless snow that's blanketed the city. It seems epic, at least to those of us in this part of the country, more the stuff of literature and legend than real life.

And while so many of us are still trudging through back-to-back blizzards, we thought we could find comfort in looking to literature, where the snow doesn't have to be plowed or shoveled. It just has to be enjoyed. In the hands of a good storyteller, snow can be magical or monstrous.

How many of us remember Laura Ingalls Wilder's terrifying description in her novel "The Long Winter?" It's based on her own childhood growing up on the prairie.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Reading) Laura felt they were going in the wrong direction. She did not know why she felt so. No one could see anything. There was nothing to go by, no sun, no sky, no direction, the winds blowing fiercely from all directions. There was nothing but the dizzy whirling and the cold.

It seemed that the cold and the winds and the noise of the winds and the blinding, smothering, scratching snow and the effort and the aching were forever. Pa had lived through three days of a blizzard under the bank of Plum Creek, but there were no creek banks here. Here, there was nothing but bare prairies. Pa had told about sheep caught in a blizzard, huddled together under the snow. Some of them had lived. Perhaps people could do that, too.

NORRIS: In the hands of writers, really good writers, snow can be in soft focus from sharply crystallized, as it is in the description from this bestselling thriller, "Smilla's Sense of Snow" by the Danish writer Peter Hoeg.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Reading) At first, the snow is six-sided, newly formed flakes. After 48 hours, the flakes break down. Their outlines blur. By the 10th day, the snow is a grainy crystal that becomes compacted after two months. After two years, it enters the transitional stage between snow and fern. After four years, it's transformed into a large, blocky, glacial crystal.

It wouldn't survive more than three years here on Gela Alta. By that time, the glacier would push it out to sea. There, it would break up and float outward to melt, disperse and be absorbed by the sea, and then someday it would rise up as newly formed snow. You can't win against the ice.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: In the classic novel "Native Son" by Richard Wright, snow serves as a metaphor for bigger Thomas' mounting troubles and the ugliness of his plight.

Unidentified Man: (Reading) He walked to Dalton's through the snow. His right hand was in his coat pocket, his fingers about the kidnap note. When he reached the driveway, he looked about the street carefully. There was no one. He looked at the house. It was huge, white, silent.

He walked up the steps and stood in front of the door. He waited a moment to see what would happen. So deeply conscious was he of violating a dangerous taboo that he felt the very air or sky would suddenly speak, commanding him to stop. He was failing fast in the face of a cold wind that all but sucked his breath from him, but he liked it.

Around him were silence and night and snow falling, falling as though it had fallen from the beginning of time and would always fall till the end of the world.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: And finally, sometimes literary snow is simply beautiful, hauntingly beautiful. Here's Robert Frost reading from his classic "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

Mr. ROBERT FROST (Poet): (Reading) Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village, though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer to stop without a farmhouse near between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake. The only other sounds, the sweep of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.