The third most uncomfortable-while-remaining-undangerous feeling in the world is probably rain-soaked jean legs. (Go here to read about the first and second.) Perpetual rain has a way of making my outlook as soggy as my trousers, and Ukrainian roads and sidewalks become pock-marked with puddles just waiting to splash onto my unsuspecting and altogether un-deserving socks. Late-autumn rain is simply miserable. Unfortunately, however, swollen puddles also mean swollen rivers, swollen creeks, swollen channels.
Thursday afternoon, I taught my first-year students some Christmas songs just in time for the temperature to drop and the rain to turn to snowflakes. After the lesson, shivering at the icy air creeping in from open doors, I could hear two girls in the hallway singing “Let it snow” as the big flakes dusted everything. The next day I woke to a world trying desperately to be blue-skyed and sparkly. It all made me stir-crazy , so I was glad when I got to tag-along with fellow-volunteer Eric, an American who’s been here for the past few weeks, and bump down the road in his van Daisy to deliver some students home for the weekend.
Before dropping off the students, we made an impromptu side-trip to visit one of the bridges over the Tisza River. People had been uneasy about the Tisza all day; the rain may have stopped, but the water rushing down from the mountains hadn’t. Péterfalva was in no immediate danger – the river would have to cross long stretches of forest and pasture before it even reached the dyke. But further northwest, over by the Hungarian border-crossing, the dyke is the riverbank, and the flood was not far from climbing to the top.
We drove through amounts of standing and running water that my driver’s education course would have condemned, but the road to the bridge was still passable. As we slowly drove across, gawking, the 6 students in the back leaned forward on their seats to look through the cleaner front windows. The swift, muddy waves had almost reached the bottom of the bridge, pushing at trees, finding new channels through land that should not belong to the river. We got out of the van to marvel some more. The swollen force of it all was terrifying. (Second-year David also used this time to throw the first snowball of the season at third-year Krisztina.)
And then there was the Black Mountain, one of the only Carpathians in this region crouched on the north side of the Tisza. Normally it hovers above the town of Szőlős in a very silhouette sort of way, all blue and rounded and rather mysterious, just like every other mountain in the long chain marching in from the east. But the new snow had filled in every dip and gully, both on Black Mountain and on the others, reflecting the struggling sunlight and giving the mountains twice the age and strength and definition they’d had before. The sun had expertly shaded the south-facing folds by burning all the snow off the tree tops there, and now the mountain rolled in gradients of fuzzy-bare-tree-brown and fresh-brushed white. We hardly knew what to stare at more – the frightening, rising water lapping at the parking lot or the solid light-catcher rising out of it.
We drove right to the root of the mountains that day, not bothering to dodge all the pot holes, stopping at a house for coffee, rubbing cold hands, facing the 3:30 sunset all the way home. That night during dinner at Ildiko’s house, she told me that the Tisza’s height had dropped, and there was no longer any fear that the road to Beregszasz – the way to the outside world – would close. Afterwards, I walked home dodging mud puddles turned to small, dirty ice-rinks, and I smelled snow in the air again. Let it snow, as long as it takes a good long while to melt.