Snow Driftings

Latest Friday post on the EarthTime blog: 


I’m going to write about snow again because no other reality currently exists in Greater Boston.

Plus, the snow this week got me to thinking about boxes. Boxes, and structures, and straight and narrow paths.

On Monday, I was out wandering, taking some photos, and checking out the latest routine-shifts brought on by yet another several feet of snow. Normally, while out and about in Somerville, I stroll along sidewalks, roads, community paths, and – apart from what I would argue is a negligible tendency to drift ever so slightly in a diagonal direction – I generally walk in straight, defined lines. It’s hard – or inevitably ridiculous – not to do this in a city (although calling Boston streets straight and defined is one of the grosser exaggerations I’ve engaged in of late).

However, as one may imagine, massive amounts of snow do not permit strolling straightly. And on this day I stumbled, slid, wind-milled my arms to regain balance, hopped and flopped over snow banks, awkwardly squeezed past people in six inches of space between five-foot-tall snow walls, before eventually realizing that I should just walk in the street.

And here in the middle of an empty snow-packed lane, I suddenly recalled a quote by Michel de Certeau that I had included in a final paper for a class called Bodies in Urban Spaces:

“If a spatial order organizes an ensemble of possibilities…and interdictions…then the walker actualizes some of these possibilities…but he also moves them about and he invents others, since the crossing, drifting away, or improvisation of walking privilege, transform or abandon spatial elements.”

Oh, with what marvelous disorganization and impossibility does snow disrupt spatial order and prompt the walker to engage in invention, privileging, transformation, and abandonment of space. Snow forces us out of our straight lines and our defined paths. It has a magical way of making certain things invisible and making other things appear.

This strikes me as being very important. We (myself very much included) spend so much of our time walking our straight, daily paths and living and thinking and being in the realities that we create for ourselves. We build cozy, sturdy worldviews, made of well-intentioned frameworks and strong moral foundations that we stroll across confidently day-in and day-out.

Of course, as human beings, we need structures and boxes and paths to a certain degree. They are, in the most positive sense, the stuff of communities.

But they can also be stifling. The walls can become brittle and stiff, the sides of the boxes too straight. Sometimes, if only temporarily, it does us great good to be jolted out of them, to be forced to see the world in a new way that asks us to invent, improvise, transform, and sometimes abandon. That is the stuff of growth.

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