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1/23 Dashing Through the Snow...

...I wasn't in a one-horse open sleigh, but sometimes if I wonder if the tranzits have more than one cylinder churning away, dragging our 20-odd-passenger van up a hundred plus kilometers and a thousand vertical feet, on the way from SouqTown to Berberville...

But I have to say, after the Inauguration Night Blizzard closed the road to Berberville for a few days, I was soooo delighted to be riding in a tranzit again. Because it meant that I was going HOME!

As we drove through the landscape, progressing steadily from a near-Saharan gravel desert up to my snowy valley, I was struck by the sere and beautiful scenery over and over again, as well as the responses to it from my Moroccan neighbors. About halfway home, it occurred to me that I'd never recall all my observations unless I recorded them, so I pulled out my notebook and began to scribble.

Here they are, unedited - note the ever-changing levels of snow along the route:

* A woman in a housecoat/bathrobe and bedroom slippers picking a path through two inches of snow, carrying a tarp filled with wood in one hand. [At some point, I'll write a whole entry on the practice of wearing bedroom-wear as outerware. Suffice to say for now - it's not uncommon.]

* Like a scene out of It's A Wonderful Life: Kids sliding on hardpacked snow, some on their feet, hunkered down so their bums and fingers skim the ice, others on their bellies with their feet curled in the air

* Dark-eyed boy with flushed cheeks, bright against his tan skin, wearing thin blue rainboots against the 3" of snow, grinning as I catch his eye

* Moisture stains at the foot of the mud walls show how much has melted already this morning - looks like 6" or more

* As the transit toils upward, low gears straining to haul us uphill, the snow steadily deepens. No, not steadily. The bright, high-altitude sun has done its job to clear the snow, but in shadowed vales and lee sides of slopes, the snow rests 4-5" thick, sculpted into sharp ridges.

* In the village of my nearest Volunteers, which had 2' of snow Wednesday evening, Friday morning reveals a strong dichotomy: on sunny slopes, it has compacted to 6-8"; on the north side of buildings, it's still a heavy, wet 1.5-2', currently being chunked out by businessmen opening a path to their doors.

* I see streaks and stripes, moire patterns of white and dark that dazzle the eye and inspire the mind... Geological features leap out with a new relief, beds and rivulets and resistant layers all standing out in blinding contrast to the snow...

* It's tempting to wave an arm and call it all black and white, but that would diminish the thousand shades of brown and red and gray of this arid landscape, breaching through the dust-tinted snow, where the colors are echoed in the palest pastels.

* Climbing the Divide, we escape from the gloom of the grey-shrouded village below, rising towards cerulean skies with carded-wool clouds.

* Egg whites! That's what the razor-sharp snow ridges have been reminding me of. Not the sea of peaks atop a Baked Alaska, or the shining mounds drifting over a lemon meringue, but the egg whites in the bowl, just as you finish beating them, glossy and perfect, smoothly undulating and swirling up to a startling peak of implausible crispness.

* Going through the pass that crowns the Divide, the road beneath our tires is snow-packed, not cleanly plowed - due to post-plowing winds, perhaps? - and the plow-pushed piles to either side reach 4 or 5 feet, up to the windows of our high-riding tranzit.

* ...but as soon as we clear the pass, we're surrounded by shallow swales; the countryside here is mostly denuded of its blanket of snow.

* The blizzard exerted its force against the flags, still flapping their cheery red and green welcome to the (still absent) King. Their crisp colors glow against the fields of white - they're contiguous here, with only a few brave patches of brown peeking through - but the poles are no longer jauntily vertical (or, when in groups of 3, forming shallow angles like a sign language W). They've been bashed and battered until they lean at every cockeyed angle. Some poles snapped near their base and lie fallen, a casualty of the winter storm. the splash of red across the ground heightens the parallels to a fallen soldier.

* Elsewhere, the flags have ripped off the poles, sometimes just at one connection point, leaving them flapping like a racecar pennant or a lady's favor. In a few cases, they've blown away entirely, leaving their naked pole a forlorn and lonely sentinel.

* Now on the outskirts of my nearest village - passing my favorite volcanic intrusions - the road is almost uniformly snowpack, not sun-dried asphalt as it has been for the past 3.5 hours. The driver's speedometer still reads 0 km/h, as it has for the past 120 km, but we're going around 5-10 mph. A walker couldn't keep up with us, or even a casual jogger, but a sprinter would leave us behind.

* 18 km from home, the dusting over the snow has deepened, and makes me hungry for a Baked Alaska just perfectly browned under the broiler.

* In my nearest village, a man is digging out a path, carving the heavy snow into crisp chunks before throwing each shovel-load over his shoulder. His precise work and the wet, snowman-friendly snow have created a pile of white cubes, scattered across the dust-browned snow like he's assembling the building blocks for an igloo.

* 9 km from home, I see my first flocks of the day. Sheep and goats, their dun and black striking against the snowy hillside they're clambering over. I guess the other shepherds are keeping their animals indoors a little longer...?

* Erosion from today's snowmelt has turned the river along the road into a flood of chocolate pudding.

* From a stretch so naked the plow seems irrelevant, just moments ago, we've rounded a bend to a scene that could be lifted from any New England winter: a narrow ribbon of asphalt winds through deep plow-stacks that reach some 6-8 feet on either side, tapering from 1-1.5' deep down to a scattering of walnut-sized chunks at the farthest reach from the road.

* Clustered icicles drip down off rock faces like a witch's skeletal fingers reaching down to pluck tasty children for a winter stew...

* Berberville looks like a ski resort, the snow so thick and heavy as to make venturing outside seem a fool's errand.

* The sky at the end of my fally looks like the opening of "The Simpson's", an implausibly radiant, pale blue with white-puffed clouds.

* The remnants of the fortress built an age ago, at the summit of the nearest rise, are now clear. Its steep walls and exposed location leave few crannies for snow to linger.

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