It was the first snow, and all through the city and its suburbs those who had awaited this event since November slept fitfully, awakening at intervals to watch the silent transformation, hoping it would be enough for school closings and snowballs.
"I slept by the window so I could see it coming down," said Dale Miller, a 9th grader at the District of Columbia's Francis Junior High, who fondly recalled past snows and past snowballs. School principals are favorite targets, and every year, Dale said, his principal reacts the same way. "He gets on the intercom the next day and says, 'That was very rude and uncalled for.' "
Dale lives on Swann Street in the District of Columbia, and by 10 a.m., as he and his best friend McKinley Evans ("We've been best friends since we were born") slid in their boots across the steps of the Masonic Temple on 16th Street, the snow was melting fast, already a snow of disappointment. "We like it high, so we can dive in it," McKinley said.
They may get their wish today, with forecasters predicting a late afternoon storm that could bring the area at least four more inches of snow.
Yesterday's storm hit hardest in the suburbs, where the snow blanketed lawns and roofs and made the pine trees sag. Though Montgomery County schools were closed, 50 sixth-graders from Four Corners Elementary were in session at the Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, deep in Rock Creek Park in Rockville, where they are spending the week studying ponds and animals and ecology.
Most said they were thrilled when the snow began to fall, but a few pretended disinterest. "I took it calm," said 11-year-old Doug Hargrove, who later was seen scampering gleefully in the snow, tobogganing, making snow angels and building a snow ape ("It started out to be a man, but it came out like an ape.").
"I said, 'Big deal,' " said Bridget Noonan, who did not have her boots with her. "I hate winter. I hate snow. I like summer."
The children were a bit disgruntled with the rules set by Four Corners principal Gabriel Jacobs, a cheerful man who has to worry about such things as kids getting hit in the eye with snowballs. "Mr. Jacobs says we can't throw snowballs," Karin Neudorfer said over a lunch of steak sandwiches, french fries and fresh fruit. "He says someone could get hurt."
Mr. Jacobs said it was not true that he opposed all snowball throwing. But he said there were certain things that had to be considered, things, such as "organization, throwability and packability," that would mystify most snowball throwers. "We make two lines on the field, and I have the kids stand behind the lines. Considering throwability and packability, we have them stand far enough so they can't really hurt each other."
Rock Creek Park, with its wide meadows and its forests of oak, elm, pine, cherry and cedar trees, was beautiful in the snow. The children took long walks and spotted the prints of fox, deer, and rabbit. A flock of mallard ducks paddled about the pond. It was very quiet, and the baaing of Aires, a sheep who lives at the center and will make an appearance in a community manger scene on Christmas Eve, could be heard from far away.
Joe Howard, supervisor of Montgomery County's outdoor education program, who keeps on his office wall the quote "A great man is he who has not lost the heart of a child" (Mencius), went tobogganing with the children on a hill behind the pond. "Snow is magic," he said. The principal of Four Corners was nowhere in sight, and Howard grinned as he threw a few snowballs, injuring no one.
He used to be principal at Four Corners himself, and he still remembers the day one of the students, an African girl named Pirouette, saw her first snow. "She went outside and played. She threw the snow in the air. She was a beautiful girl. It was like a ballet."
A casualty of the first snow came during the tobogganing. Bernie Samm, who works as Howard's on-site coordinator, dislocated his right thumb as he shoved the long sleds down the hill. "I'm worried because my wife and I are going skiing in Vermont over Christmas, and I don't want anything to go wrong," he said.
The snow in the park was clean snow, unsullied by cars or animals, and a lot of the kids snacked on it. "Don't eat too much, or you'll get astomach ache," warned 11-year-old Martin Long.
"It's good with cinnamon and maple syrup and chocolate sauce," said 12-year-old Jennifer Morgan as she swallowed a handful of ungarnished snow. "Also orange juice and apple juice."