Jilly D.

Blinded by Snow

In Uncategorized on December 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm

            Green Bay is mostly known for the Packers but I know it for its winter. The academic year 1987-88 I had a visiting appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Just an hour north of Appleton, following the Fox River north into the bay, it’s terrain I knew from my college years in the late 70s.

           After the unrest in Madison during the late 60s and early 70s, the state built a new campus along the shores of Lake Michigan, on the southeastern edge of the Bay. The “lake effect” of wind and snow from the Canadian northwest provided the people of Green Bay with true tests of survival against the forces of weather. It gets cold there.

            Winter’s cold wasn’t the reason the state of Wisconsin built a campus with hallways underground between buildings. Sure, it was great in the winter not having to put your coat on to walk across campus; but the subterranean level of the school seemed to me symbolic of a liberal education as underground and somehow subversive to the state. Not only did the campus walkways exist underground, but throughout the maze of connecting paths between classroom buildings and administrative facilities there were electronically activated security gates that recessed into the walls. Should civil disobedience or disorderly conduct occur on campus, security could quickly “cage” the problem without any media access. Or so I was told during my new faculty orientation.

            But it is cold in Green Bay in winter. So cold the campus shuts down in early December after finals and is closed until the spring semester resumes in February. No classes are conducted during January. It’s doesn’t make any sense to even try to hold class sessions during January. For me, it meant a month of uninterrupted dissertating at home.

            January 3, 1988, was another cold day. I hadn’t done laundry for weeks. Hadn’t been to the grocery or gone outside much in more than a week. It was bright and sunny though. Thermometer said 20 below. The coat, the hat, second pair of socks, boots, scarf, gloves with mittens over.

            My 1974 Subaru turned right over. I let it run, but I ran back inside while the car warmed up. I took everything off and put an extra hooded sweatshirt on and then put everything else back on and took the laundry out to the car. Then I took Bob for a short stroll and a quick whiz before we climbed in the car.

            The plows had piled snow along the side of the roads waist high and left the road a smooth hard base of compacted white ice. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, the roads were clear and empty. Driving in such weather is more like skiing. Slow, gentle, gliding along. A few stores open, but parking lots with only a handful of cars. I pulled into the strip mall where I figured I could do my laundry, get groceries, and walk Bob along a building instead of out in the bay’s wind.

            Bob and I dragged several laundry baskets inside. Each time I opened the glass doors, those inside moaned and moved away from me as the unwelcome cold air invaded the space. Shoved the dark clothes into one machine and the lights into another. Then I took my mittens and gloves off and dug into my pocket for the frozen quarters. Bob sat next to me, watching every quarter go in and hearing its clunk. I took my hat off and unwrapped the scarf around my neck. My face felt flushed. The humid air of wet clothes and lint-filled dryers felt good and I noticed I could see through my glasses again. When I first walked in they had steamed up. I felt the metal frames pinch my skin with how cold they felt against my flesh.

I noticed the sounds of two or three other machines going and a woman sitting in a hard plastic office chair against the back wall reading a magazine. Another couple folded their clean clothes on a countertop while their toddler son pushed a laundry cart around the aisles between the rows of machines and the dryers lining the outside walls.

With the laundry started, I figured it was time to venture out again and give Bob a much needed bathroom break. I put on all my winter outdoor gear again: hoodie up, hat on top, gloves, mittens, scarf over my mouth and nose.

“You know it’s about 80 degrees below with the windchill factor today?” The woman barely looked up from her magazine when she gave me a forewarning.

“No, really?” I said.

“Oh, yeah. Heard it on the radio just a minute ago.”

“Wow. Let’s be quick about this Bob.” We pushed open the door and took three steps forward when the wind coming off the open field across from the strip mall hit me.

POP.

I couldn’t see anything. White. Was I blind? What? I heard and felt something right in front of my eyes explode and then I couldn’t see anything. White.

I reached up and took my glasses off. The lenses had exploded. When the cold air hit the glass and met the warm, humid air held next to my face from inside the lenses, they shattered instantly and flew out of their frames.

Freaky cold. That’s how cold it gets in Green Bay. Cold enough to test your frosticles off.

Driving home with Bob riding shotgun in the Subaru, I felt myself living out a Mr. Magoo comic adventure. Blinded by snow.

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