Class of 2016
(1/2014) When snowflakes first begin to fall from the sky, everyone gathers in anticipation. Around the window, families huddle closely and watch as the snowflakes start to cover the outside surfaces. The road, the trees, and the grass effortlessly begin to vanish behind a white cloth. The family remains inside, safe from the frigid air and the
impending winter storm. Outside, the snow continues to fall, creating a barrier with every flake.
These first snowflakes have an important role. Not only do they signal the approaching weather and evoke excitement, but they also protect. These snowflakes create a wall of snow that separates what lies beneath it from an even more intense cold. The base layer of snow that is created by the first snowflakes retains heat and conducts it slowly. Similar
to a piece of wool clothing in which the heat from the body is retained rather than dissipated, the beginning snow of a snowfall retains heat rather than letting it go. It appears that this is a scientific phenomenon that farmers and gardeners know and understand well, so they welcome the snow as a protective barrier for their plants. In the 1800s, however, this concept was
relatively new and frequently reported about in local newspapers.
On March 7, 1858, there was a large snowstorm near Market Weighton. The Yorkshire newspapers contained a story in relation to this storm in which a woman became trapped beneath the snow. The story recalls that a woman was overtaken by the snow already fallen outside and was then gradually snowed into her position underneath a solid blanket of white.
She was unable to move and was trapped with only a small breathing place near her head. The woman was hidden for two days until a man traveling across the moor spotted a womanís bonnet on top of the snow and went over to investigate. Much to his surprise, he found that a living woman was beneath the bonnet.
This story is similar to the story of Elizabeth Woodcock. In the winter of 1799, Elizabeth was traveling from Cambridge to her home in a neighboring village. She is said to have dismounted for a few minutes during which the horse ran off without her. She continued on her way back to her house until she grew tired and sat down under a thicket. It
started to snow, but Elizabeth was too exhausted to rise from her position. By the time morning came, two feet of snow had accumulated above Elizabethís head. There was very little that she could do to help her situation. However, she found a twig and tied her handkerchief at the top of it. She then pushed the twig and handkerchief, acting as a signal, through the snow above
her head. Night and day passed and Elizabeth was still trapped beneath the snow. She was unable to move and had nothing to eat, but she was able to hear church bells and sounds from the nearby village, which gave her a sense of time and kept her sane. For four whole days Elizabeth remained trapped under the snow.
On the fifth day the snow began to thaw, but Elizabeth, even weaker than before, was unable to remove herself from her position. It wasnít until she had been under the snow for eight days that her handkerchief signal was spotted by a villager. By this time, many other villagers had been wondering where Elizabeth had gone since she was not at home and
hadnít been seen around town. The villager who spotted the handkerchief approached the spot in which it was and stooped down to say, "Are you there, Elizabeth Woodcock?" She had just enough strength to reply, "Dear John Stittle, I know your voice. For Godís sake, help me out!" John Stittle did just that. He was able to help Elizabeth get out from underneath the snow and
helped her return to her home. Unfortunately, Elizabeth passed away half a year after the incident from mismanagement of frostbitten toes. However, it is fully believed that no one, unless fully surrounded in snow, could live eight days and nights in such a place without any food.
Interestingly, though these two women wouldnít have needed saving if it werenít for the snow, the snow is also what saved them. The snow kept the women warm enough under its protective barriers, so that the women were able to live in extreme conditions. After reading these stories, I remembered a documentary I had watched in middle school about Otzi
the Iceman in which snow is given credit for being an excellent preserver for the body of a mummy.
Otzi was discovered in September 1991 by two hikers. These hikers spotted a frozen body within the mountains in between Austria and Italy. The body turned out to be over 5,300 years old and the oldest frozen mummy ever found. The body was taken to Austria, where scientists were able to analyze him. Multiple investigations began at the site of Otziís
discovery. After many stories about Otziís life and cause of death, the mystery was finally said to be solved in June 2001. A report stated that Otzi was attacked and shot with a stone arrowhead that embedded itself in his shoulder while Otzi fled. Otzi reached the top of the mountain and was exhausted and bleeding heavily. Unable to go any further, Otzi lay down and died.
However, the most recent theory suggests that Otziís scene of discovery was not that of a murder but was actually a burial sight. Facts such as the pollen in Otziís gut and the pollen found in the ice support the theory that Otzi died prior to his journey up the mountain and was later carried up the mountain for burial. This theory, like the other theories about Otziís life
and death, has its flaws and cannot be proven to be completely true.
Although the details about Otzi are not yet figured out, it is fact that the reason his body was so well-preserved is due to the amount of ice and snow he was found in. The environment in which Otziís dead body last rested and the environment in which he stayed for many years allowed for it to stay very well-preserved, even when it was discovered
thousands of years after his death.
In all of these stories, the snow is the central force that protects and preserves each individual. It appears that the snow is a precautionary measure that shields everything from the approaching cold, so when those snowflakes begin to fall and your family gathers to look out the window, remember that you might owe a bit of thanks to the snow for the
safety it is trying to bring. Think of the snow not as a burden to shovel or maneuver through, but rather as a great barrier that keeps you safe and guarded. Just remember when my twentieth birthday rolls around on March 7, especially if it happens to bring a snowstorm with it, to please check outside for bonnets!
Read other articles by Lydia Olsen