Today is a day that exists only every four years so it deserves to be different, I suppose. It’s a bit of a dreamy day, muted and cloudy, precipitation looming on the radar screen, and I’ve made it more so, streaming Dvořák and Brahms on Pandora and cocooning in my attic space.
I hand wrote a letter this morning, which made me realize how difficult that has become. Not the words, which flow easily, but rather the mechanics of finding their home on paper, so used they are to sliding from my mind down my arm and flying from my fingertips to find their spots on the screen. It was awkward at first, my coordination off, letters formed far too quickly, sloppily, but at some point I was writing fluidly, not concerned of whether it was legible or not (I hope it is, though).
It fits into a trend I’ve noted in my reading choices of late—historical narrative, memoirs… Real life is but a map for fiction I realize more and more.
Laskin traces the lives of six pioneer families in the context of the blizzard, a “perfect storm” of warm air hitting cold, of winds which brought the snow with cruel suddenness, catching all off guard. For this reason it is called The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard for it took so many young lives, many who died not of the cold but from suffocation from the fine flour-like ice dust which made it impossible for them to breathe.
I will not offer long passages, but will include the first words of the prologue…
“On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent. Out of nowhere, a soot gray cloud appeared over the northwest horizon. The air grew still for a long, eerie measure, then the sky began to roar and a wall of ice dust blasted the prairie. Every crevice, every gap and orifice instantly filled with shattering crystals, blinding, smothering, suffocating, burying anything exposed to the wind. […] In three minutes the front subtracted 18 degrees from the air’s temperature. Then evening gathered in and temperatures kept dropping steadily, hour after hour, in the northwest gale. Before midnight, windchills were down to 40 below zero. That’s when the killing happened. By morning on Friday the thirteenth, hundreds of people lay dead on the Dakota and Nebraska prairie, many of them children who had fled—or been dismissed from—country schools at the moment when the wind shifted and the sky exploded.”