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Mack Williams: Lost in Snow, shadows and time

The other day, I thought the snow was gone until heading south from Danville on U.S, Highway 86. Off to my right, sunlit snow still glared in a forest floor, its “winter storm warning” menace having become settled with age.

With the loss of its leaves for the winter, this great woods was suffering from “leafy deforestation,” not the all-consuming kind a few miles back up the road, leaving only stumps, if that much.

The detached leaves most likely still lay beneath the snow, there being no leaf-blower-armed city crew to clear them away.

But an additional thing seemed just as “glaring”: within that place, the sunny snow was almost “pristine” in coverage and depth. Just outside the forest’s edge, melting was universal, and mostly in the past tense.

This snow seemed to be holding out for the outside chance of a gully guarded, or rock-overhung remainder surviving to greet spring “person-to-person,” more smoothly connecting one season to another.

Leaves and their accompanying shadows had departed. Only a “stick forest” with “stick shadows” of twigs, branches, limbs and trunks remained. As the day progressed, shade of varying number, angle and size moved across the ground to “carbon copy” the sun’s rays.

“Shadow-casters” and their shadows (many much more slender than “slender man”) performed their communal best, joining “hands” to protect an even colder, alabaster “soul mate.”

In this perceived effort, every spot was continually revisited by moments of shade, leaving no room for complaint of “unfair.”

I started to stop and explore the “white woods,” as in childhood, but feared becoming lost. I knew the forest must have an end, but I couldn’t see it for the trees. (if this were Facebook, the “LOL” would be added here.)

In such a place of shady confusion, a constantly “nose to the ground” antiquarian sundial devotee would be hard-pressed to find “true Greenwich- shadow-time.” Of course, such predicament would be remedied, if every now and then he did as the late astronomer Jack Horkheimer always advocated: “Keep looking up!”

At Chapel Hill’s Morehead Planetarium in 1964, Mrs. Roselyn Misenheimer’s Granite Quarry sixth-grade class walked on the great sundial out front. Many shadows fell on its “clock face” that day, but only one of them was still enough to tell time.

In old B-westerns, there is the classic scene where the Native-American jabs a lance into the ground and warns the trespasser to “Be gone when the shadow of the spear touches the rock!” Imagine many spears of different lengths, jabbed at differing angles in front of many rocks. No one would be absolutely sure of the time to “vamoose!”

Such multiple-shadow confusion, whether in snowy wood or western plain, always gives way (for a time) to the singular-shadow “certainty” of a moonless night.

In passing that recently lingering snow, I imagined that in wandering there, I might become lost along time’s track, maybe even ending up in my boyhood backyard forest during the legendary “March snows of 1960.”

If “old age reverie” for “young days” leads to personal disorientation in the space-time continuum, I might use my cellphone (after momentary re-acquaintance with it) to call “911.”

But I would first attempt a much earlier ingrained “emergency” number of my youth: “Melrose 6-2840” (what else?).

As a response to my in-vain attempt, I might receive an unusually poignant variation of that bland recording given out by the phone company.

Providing more information than required, the normally emotionless voice might say, with slightly sad inflection: “This number, stated specifically in this way, and much connected with it, is no longer in service at this time.”

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