For snow lovers, it was a day to savor

February 14, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

While the rest of the city was doing rush-hour cartwheels trying to get from here to there yesterday morning, a lone cross-country skier traced the silky perimeter of Baltimore's great star fort.

With gulls and geese gliding through thick harbor clouds the hue of a derelict nickel, the solitary skier glided over virgin snow white as a wedding gown.

Round and round she went, reluctant to break her reverie with small talk, her face scarlet as poles propelled her around the sea wall of Fort McHenry.

She, and not many others, knew yesterday that the national landmark in Locust Point was a magnificent place to savor the snow.

By a little after 10 a.m., there were only a few cars in the parking lot, most of them belonging to employees; clusters of empty picnic tables; two people in the museum theater to see a movie about bombs that burst over the fort in 1814, prompting Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner; and Lou Miller, as usual, taking it easy at his favorite spot in the world.

"You don't need snow for it to be good here," said Mr. Miller, looking toward a freighter docked across the channel at Clinton Street, the vessel's name and home port obscured by fine granules falling quick and steady.

"It's the tranquillity, the peace and quiet. You know, the hustle and bustle of the world gets nerve-wracking, standing in lines at the supermarket and all.

"But when you come through those gates, it changes," said the 64-year-old retiree who drives to South Baltimore from Lansdowne every morning to pass through those iron gates.

"People are more cordial, they take the time to say hello. And with this snow, the water is calm, the birds are settled down, and there's not much boat traffic. It's a good place to sit and meditate or for walks -- no problems."

It's unusual that he's alone there, but Mr. Miller's fair weather cronies, a group of men who came of age during World War II and meet at the fort just about every morning, don't like driving in the snow.

But Mr. Miller loves it and, yards in front of him, down toward the sea wall where only the skier's smooth tracks and the webbed footprints of water fowl blemish the snow, a sign explains the port of Baltimore to tourists and unknowing locals.

It says: "Petroleum, iron ore, raw sugar, bananas, and lumber are among the port's leading imports. . . ."

But to read it you had to brush away an inch of snow and the only vessel plying the deep water port of legend at the moment was a city trash skimmer.

Far behind Mr. Miller, west toward the gates of the fort, is the huge statue of the music god Orpheus -- bronze, nearly nude and towering over the park on a marble pedestal as snow collects on his broad shoulders.

Just about the time the snow stops around 11:30 a.m. it is time for Mr. Miller to go out into the world and do some shopping, to leave a place where "people come from all over town just to walk around and feed the birds," he said. "You can be all alone here and still have friends."

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