There is no wonder greater than dawn breaking snow.
Old people and sun worshipers grumble about it, their foul feelings a mix of fear and self-denial, I think. My inner child has no problem taking a full-speed run into snow’s delight. So many textures, odors, weights, consistencies, depths of color. It can be made into balls or shaped into abstract leaning structures you declare an igloo. Snow is an eternal wonder.
Holding some in your hand is walking a fine edge: near houses, shouting people, and with a mitten protecting you it’s fascinating, a contained delight you can pet like a cat. A little colder, a little farther away, darkness coming, the snow loses all knowing and human frame. Snow is eternal like the rocks and the vacuum of space, always there and always accepting of your little mote of heat. When you are still and listening to it, you hear that ancient fear: the cold that comes and locks time away from the living. Snow is like the ocean, vast and irrelevant to human scale, morally irrelevant, exuding time.
So much fell each Ontario winter that as a seven-year-old I could get lost walking to the school bus, the plow having broken up huge banks of rectilinear frozen snow shapes. The night and just enough sun would fuze them together and they could clambered over like an astronaut exploring the Moon. At the bottom of hills, if you stood behind the shattered berm you couldn’t see the bus. Very early mornings even before my Dad was up a man came with a snowblower and cleaned out the car-length driveway in time for the plow to come and close it in again. Snow is a force in Canada, winter a palpable thing.
Texas was a winter disappointment, with few exceptions. Some years there was hardly any frost, and my snowsuits and collection of toboggan slider things and a real sled that could have come from Citizen Kane lay desiccating in the attic. Stumbling upon them in the summer, the attic a dark furnace even late into the night, was not sad or disappointing but confusing in a way I had never experienced as a child. This place is not like that place, at all, at all. Can I really go back? A strange, deep thought to have as a ten-year-old, about the same as realizing turning the calendar to June will somehow get to September, by and by.
Seattle winters are a mix of Texas and, say, Tennessee. Down by the water where the cities are snow is not a given but more likely than not, in modest amounts needing no maintenance attention. People panic like in Texas, creeping down streets and clearing stores of Sterno and D batteries. My first winter here, of 1997-98, an inchish dusting cleared out the city and had me alone at work. The gawky, cranelike woman I worked for stared out from behind her thick-framed artist glasses and said something about the end of the world. I walked Fourth and tried to catch flakes on my tongue, and had fun.
Yesterday was warm and muggy, but cold spread in later as the sun went down. Now it is 33, the high supposedly 38, and a winter weather advisory. The snow comes in waves, gaps opening with uninspired flurries, then closing down with fat globs hiding the Catholic school gym a block away. Little kids next door play in the driveway, shouting. An old black guy huffs up the hill, one foot in front of the other, bundled tight as Scatman Crothers in The Shining. Cars slosh by in winter’s pavement hiss.
Time will come back later in the week with the rain. Now there is the hush and the white, light everywhere, reflected and clean.