of us are gathered here in Bly, Kan., at the co-op, to talk
about the snow. It has been coming down in thumb-sized
wet flakes, but by afternoon the sky will be white with tiny
dots, giving the impression we have lost our horizons. The
ground is still warm, so the snow will melt into the pastures.
If it gets thick enough—and it will—it will fill
the shallow wells we have for our livestock and homes. Maybe
even the creeks will run when spring comes.
“A million-dollar snow,” says one of the men.
“If you count snow as cash on which we'll earn interest
“And a couple years beyond that,” says the second
man, “if we didn’t have a debt to the drought.”
It amuses us to think of snow as money.
We take our gloves off the propane stove, put on our coats
and head for the door. We are off to move hay, check stock
tanks, get wood in for the stoves, and before night park the
pickups pointing toward where we might go the next day. We
don’t know it yet, but by morning we won’t be
going anyplace soon: Some of us in the country will be a week
“ ‘It was snowing, and it was going to snow,’
” I say as we step outside.
* * *
A man on a farm just outside of Bly
is Steve Reuber. When the snow lets up, he gets into
his 1962 John Deere 4010 with a front-end blade and heads
toward Bly. The county can’t get down here yet, but
Steve can, so he does. We are a four-dirt-street tic-tac-toe
of a town. That plus the Oil Road that leads to the U.S. highway.
Steve has been plowing our streets—and our driveways—for
20 years. Same tractor. Same Steve.
“He’s better than government,” is what
This year he’ll take extra care to clear the streets
all the way to the mailboxes, because otherwise our mailman,
Gene Wurm, will have to get out of his car each time to make
his delivery. Mr. Wurm is past 80 and we don’t want
him to take a fall. Most of us out here are old, and we are
mindful of each other that way: Quick to hurt, slow to heal.
* * *
“It was snowing / And it was going
It’s a line from the poet Wallace Stevens. When I am
not who I am in Bly, I am a teacher who knows about poets.
The men here understand that and don’t hold it against
“It’s not something we’d say,” says
the man who mentioned the million-dollar snow.
“I read ‘Snow-Bound,’ ” says the
other. “In school.”
“ ‘The sun that brief December day / Rose cheerless
over hills of gray, / And, darkly circled, gave at noon /
A sadder light than waning moon.’ ”
“If you say so.”
“And this is Robert Frost,” I say:
“ ‘Whose woods these are I think I know. / His
house is in the village though; / He will not see me stopping
here / To watch his woods fill up with snow.’ ”
By now we are at our trucks.
“Frost isn’t talking to us either,” says
the man who was taught Whittier. “We don’t have
woods, and nothing ‘fills up’ except roads and
draws with drifts.”
Gene Wurm goes by on the Oil Road heading to Bly.
“It is money and it is going to be money,” I
say, looking around.
We are quiet for a moment. We all know the sound of snow
in the wind, but you can’t name it.
“Better your other poetry for who we are,” says
the first man.
I am thinking of drifts, of Steve Reuber, of the hand-pump
wells we will be using the next few days because the power
lines are down. No phones. No television. Wood smoke in the
gray mornings. Snow as snow.