Wayne County Wanderings: The 'Holy Silence' of Walking in Snow

·7 min read
Snow blankets White Mills, the storm picking up in intensity as shown here beneath a lonely street lamp.
Snow blankets White Mills, the storm picking up in intensity as shown here beneath a lonely street lamp.

Snow began falling lightly just after sunset. By the time we’d finished eating dinner and watching the news, Charles Street was blanketed in white.

The evening passed uneventfully and Teri eventually headed up to bed. I turned off the TV and stayed downstairs for a bit longer. I'd wanted to finish one of the books she'd given me for Christmas, but I couldn't focus on the text.

Winter was calling and I was itching to bundle up and head out.

My fascination with walking alone in the snow stretches back into my deepest childhood. Some of my fondest memories of winter on Parkway Drive involve long, solitary rambles along the river.

Walking alone in the snow gives me a chance to think. It's so quiet and peaceful, especially at night. While “normal” folks are home wrapped up in a blanket, sipping a warm drink or lazing by the fire, I'm itching to get out there and embrace the storm.

It's an ancient desire … one that resides somewhere down in the depths of my soul.

To be honest, there's a spiritual aspect to these walks. Somehow out there in the pristine silence … at the human nexus between the black night and the white snow … you can almost sense the presence of God.

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Heart of the Storm

Teri was not happy at about 10:30 when I announced that I was going out.

She’s a morning person and as such was already snuggled down, reading and perfectly content to watch the snow through the bedroom window.

“You’re doing what?” she asked, peering at me overtop of her book.

“I’m going for a walk,” I replied.

“No you’re not,” she said, putting the book down and crossing her arms.

“Yes I am,” I averred, trying to suppress the smile I could feel coming on.

“You do know what time it is, right? And that it’s snowing?” she asked incredulously.

“Of course,” I answered with a shrug. “That’s kinda the whole point.”

I understood that she was just worried about me.

After all, I’m 55 and a former football player who’s endured at least six concussions. The thought of me taking a tumble and winding up in a snowbank somewhere wasn't exactly far-fetched.

But she also understood that my mind was made up.

“Fine,” she said with an exasperated roll of the eyes. “Just try not to slip and break your neck ok?”

“I'll be careful,” I said, not even trying to hide a big 'ol grin now. “I promise.”

Out & About

On this particular night, my snowy stroll began on Charles Street, but carried me all over White Mills.

I stopped to watch the snowflakes swirl beneath a lonely street lamp behind the Dorflinger factory.

I paused across the street from the old Catholic Church. For some reason all the lights had been left on, making the photo I took resemble something from a Currier & Ives print.

Crossing the bridge that spans the Lackawaxen, I peered down into the icy waters and wondered if the fish knew it was snowing.

Watson Brothers: An iconic White Mills storefront shining brightly amid the snowflakes.
Watson Brothers: An iconic White Mills storefront shining brightly amid the snowflakes.

Standing beneath the overhang at Watson Brothers, I saw my first plow truck rumble by. The driver looked over, saw me and waved. I think he also shook his head, wondering what the hell I was doing out on a night like this.

Deep down, though, I think he understood.

Plow drivers are a special breed and those who make enough of these late-night runs develop a certain wisdom. Yeah, I think he understood all right.

Local Legend

Ever since childhood, I'd wondered about the “holy silence” of snowstorms … the peace and quiet that allowed my mind to focus so clearly.

And so, once I reached high school, I took my question to the highest available scientific authority

LaVerne Thornton remains a legend in the collective consciousness of Honesdale High School students to this day.

“Gov” was a brilliant man and a genuinely decent human being. He was chairman of the department and possessed a genuine gift when it came to explaining difficult scientific concepts to scatter-brained teenagers.

The Thorntons lived on Westside Avenue just a couple of blocks from the hospital. They were one of the customers on my paper route.

I remember one wintry morning in particular when “Gov” was waiting for me just inside the front door. It couldn’t have been much later that six a.m., but there he was clad in wool pajamas, robe and slippers.

Legendary HHS teacher LaVerne "Gov" Thornton
Legendary HHS teacher LaVerne "Gov" Thornton

Gov was his usual cheerful self. He thanked me for the paper and asked me inside to warm up a bit. While I stood there in the entryway, Gov took my gloves, placed them on the heater and presented what he called a “business proposition.”

Anytime there was an accumulating snow, if I would shovel his driveway and clean off the car, he’d pay me an extra five dollars.

Now of course that was a no-brainer. The Thorntons' driveway was short and the house was near the end of my route, so I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

It was good decision because that winter turned out to be one of the snowiest in memory. I must have shoveled their little driveway 10 times and when I'd finished, Gov would be standing in the doorway with a big smile and a crisp five dollar bill.

Fast forward five or six years and I'm no longer Gov Thornton's paperboy and shoveler. Now I'm just another student in his fifth period BSCS class.

And one fine day the opportunity finally presented itself. I raised my hand and asked the question. I have no idea what prompted me. It must have been winter and it’s possible that he was lecturing on sound waves, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, I asked Gov why it always seemed so quiet and peaceful whenever I went for a walk in the snow. As expected, he immediately had the answer.

Those who remember Gov will no doubt recall how light he was on his feet. As a young man he’d been a terrific baseball player and is still considered one of the greatest catchers in Wayne County Baseball League history.

And so, he glided up to the blackboard, grabbed a piece of chalk and began drawing as he talked.

According to Gov, snowflakes are six-sided crystals, no two of which are identical. They’re also porous, which means that as they fall and begin piling up gazillions of little spaces naturally form. It’s this porous nature that allows freshly-fallen snow to absorb sound … sometimes as much as 75 percent of the waves it encounters.

Now, couple that with the fact that I nearly always walk in the snow at night when most folks are smart enough to stay inside their nice warm homes … well, there you have the perfect recipe for profound silence.

Holy silence.

Seeking God in the snow.
Seeking God in the snow.

Our Invincible Summer

It was also in high school that I discovered the writings of the American transcendentalists … in particular those of Henry David Thoreau.

Most of us remember Thoreau for his classic book “Walden” in which he urges us to live deeply and deliberately … to learn what Nature has to teach us.

Thoreau's words echoed in my ears as I began the climb back up Charles Street. Images of my childhood on Parkway Drive, Gov Thornton at the blackboard, and Teri waiting for me at home danced among the swirling snowflakes.

Before long, I could see our home, the windows suffused with a warm, inviting, golden glow.

“In winter we lead a more inward life,” Thoreau said. “Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke ascends.”

He exhorted me as I arrived shivering, and happily exhausted on our front porch.

“Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods!” he wrote. “Deal with brute nature! Be cold and hungry and weary!”

Why? You may ask … as I knew Teri would the minute I walked back through that door. Well, Thoreau provides the perfect, poetic answer.

“In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lies an invincible summer.”

Look closely, folks. It's there. No matter how cold and snowy it may be right now in Wayne County, our invincible summer is always there.

This article originally appeared on Tri-County Independent: Wayne County Wanderings Kevin Edwards White Mills snowstorm walk

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