When we were in upstate New York for Christmas, something really beautiful happened:
There was already a layer of snow on the ground when we arrived, and over the next few days, fresh storms gave the area the look of a Currier and Ives print: sparkling, pristine, pure, glorious.
As a California resident and native, I can count my experiences with snow on my fingers. It’s so novel to me that I still dance around like a preschooler anytime the flakes start to fall. And whenever I spend any amount of time in the snow, I find myself reflecting on a few Snow Truths that we, as Californians, simply don’t get to learn until we travel.
1) It’s gorgeous and evocative. It’s a cliché to say that my in-laws’ yard looked like a Christmas card, but it did. And it wasn’t just a visual association; I would look into the forests behind their home, bare trees with snow on the boughs, and Tchaikovsy’s Waltz of the Snowflakes started playing in the symphony hall of my imagination. It’s a beauty that is hard to pin down or explain, somehow. I am normally a big fan of color, but there is something about a vast expanse of white that is positively breathtaking.
2) It makes literature real to me. Throughout my life, I’ve read books that take place in colder climes, and any description of snow has always felt alien to me. I could never relate to Laura and Mary in the Little House books, say, when they put on their mittens and went out to play. It always sounded great, but there was a huge chasm in my own experience (the closest I could get was going out and playing in a rainstorm: fun, but not the same). But every experience I’ve had of the snow as an adult has demystified those literary descriptions, making them more vivid and real.
And unless you’ve seen snow falling you can’t quite understand the beauty of the last lines of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead”:
Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
3) It gives me a whole new level of respect for my fellow mothers who live in colder climes. Outfitting small children to go out into the snow is a complicated, time-consuming endeavor. It means putting on an extra layer of socks and scrambling to find mittens and wrestling noncompliant younglings into puffy pants. It adds a few more steps to the process of getting one’s offspring out the door on time in the morning – and as every mom knows, even in balmy climates that is an experience requiring epic reserves of planning and fortitude. Hats off to you, Snow Moms.
4) It provides all kinds of fun for the kids. Matthew in particular had a blast with throwing snowballs, traipsing through the freshly-fallen snow to make a “maze,” and trying to climb the “wall” of snow banked at the edge of the lawn. The delight was palpable … and contagious.
5) It is a lot of work. Scott, native New Yorker, was the one who had to de-ice and de-snow the car anytime we went anywhere. He also had to shovel the driveway when the plow guy didn’t show up. He also had to drive the car up the hilly slushy road, a process which required four tries to get enough traction/momentum to get around the corner. Needless to say, Scott is not as rhapsodic about the snow as I am. “This is why I moved all those years ago,” he says.
6) Challenges aside, there is something spiritually renewing about a snowfall. A landscape looks completely different when it’s under a cover of white. It’s so dramatic and complete a change; it is almost hard to believe that one is looking at the same place. It can’t help but make me think of other transformations, of the possibility of new perspectives and new ways of engaging with our same old life, our same old fears, our same old problems. “Behold, I make all things new,” says the Bible (Rev. 21:5), and that verse kept echoing through my mind as I looked at the snow banked in my in-laws’ front yard, at the flakes falling soundlessly against a backdrop of gray trees, at the gravestones in the nearby graveyard, each one wearing a neat cap of white. There was something healing about it all, at a time when that was very welcome to me.
I’m back home now, where there is no snow. But, to invoke Wordsworth, ever since coming back, there have been moments when those white untouched landscapes flash upon my inward eye. And I am glad they do.