Snow in El Paso And Shel

My son, Batman
My son, Batman
My son's cricket
My son's cricket

Snow in the Desert

It has snowed in El Paso, Texas, and we don't know what to do. We don't get snow often here, and this makes us behave oddly when we do get it. Adults take pictures of snow-dusted cacti and feel that they are seeing something rather miraculous. They send their pictures to all their friends. (Every Christmas on the tour of city lights, you find Christmas cacti, spiny and lit for your enjoyment, in place of the traditional evergreen tree). Kids build snowmen, only to watch them decay before the day is over. It is hard to believe in Frosty around here, when snowmen are so excruciatingly temporary. You don't have time to get to know them before they are gone. We can't drive in the stuff. The roads are very dangerous while the desert rats try to get out of the cold, away from the snow, as quickly as possible. My son made snowballs, turned his pale face red as a cherry, and was wet to his knees with the stuff.

I spent my early years, from birth to age nine, in Fairfax County, Virginia. It snowed there more frequently, and so I remember winter as a time of icicles, sledding, snowmen that lived more than a day, and fort building. Every winter my friends and I tried to jump the creek, and more often than not we failed, but, oh, when one of us succeeded--that was a victory over nature and the adults who no longer believed it could be done. When you're a kid, adults believe far too many things are impossibilities that are merely improbable.

I have become acclimated to the Chihuahuan Desert in which I have lived most of my life. I no longer like the cold. I don't really enjoy the snow. My knees really don't like the snow, and my knuckles ache. I do better in the heat, the bright, biting sunlight of the desert day. Not that the desert is always hot. Take a step away from the city into the sand and let night fall; and you will learn that the desert is cold. The desert is always unforgiving, and I like that about it. Its demands are clear and constant--and everywhere there are venomous beasts hiding themselves, ready to strike out from fear and hunger. My son is six, but he has known how to spot a Texas diamondback and a coral snake since the age of four. We humans tend to awaken them without intending to, invading their territory and disturbing them with construction projects.

Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein, poet

Shel Silverstein was the first poet I really loved. When I was a kid, I could recite his poems and I read his books over and over again. Shel Silverstein showed me that poetry was not only something I could read, but something I might want to do, something that could be fun and that could provide a way of seeing that was different from the everyday seeing I was familiar with. I have a son. He likes Shel Silverstein, too. This doesn't mean that he will be a poet, or will ever want to be a poet, but Shel is someone we share.

It has snowed in the desert, and so we read "Snowman" together. Silverstein writes of a snowman who desperately wants to see July, an impossible dream for a snowman. If you substitute "tomorrow" for "July", it is the dream of every desert snowman.

Shel Silverstein had a wonderful gift: he could express sadness in a way that recognized the reality of it without overwhelming one with the pain of it. "The Unicorn" always made me sad, but it did not hurt. It was a safe sorrow, a sorrow a child can both comprehend and comfortably deal with. Of course, there is also the humor of Shel Silverstein. He makes my son laugh with "Backwards Bill" and "Mr. Grumbledump's Song", a poem he has dedicated to my friend, Mike, a man who always has a complaint and expresses himself gruffly.

I read other poetry before I encountered Shel Silverstein. My mother read Stevenson's A Child's Treasury of Poems to me. I knew some of A. A. Milne's poems. I knew nursery rhymes and songs. But it was Silverstein who wrote poetry that spoke to me, the scabby-kneed six year old trying to figure out what the adults were up to, and what they really wanted.


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