This is a story about snow. It begins on the 4th of July in the late 1970s in my hometown, where and when everyone comes home for the holiday. Family and shirttail relatives descend on the place where they grew up to interact with the memories of their childhood. They come from big cities and places far away to watch the parade, eat bratwurst, an exotic concoction called “chicken buyah” aka chicken noodle stew, and drink beer, go to a street dance watch fireworks and in general relive a past that is rapidly vanishing from the landscape even as the small towns quietly die and slip away.
On this particular 4th of July our house was crammed full of people. My father, never one for crowds was beginning to get a little claustrophobic. He found me with some of my cousins and asked me if I would go for a walk with him. So we walked to his pick-up truck and drove out to County Line Road, near the old farmhouse where he grew up. He parked the truck and we got out and started walking down the road. He pointed out a logging road, partially grown over, and we started walking into a stand of hemlock trees. The temperature was in the 80’s and the air under the canopy of hemlock branches was cool
We walked for perhaps a quarter of a mile, the air getting cooler and cooler. My father started to chuckle and then he said look. About twenty feet off the logging road was a pile of snow. The hemlock canopy had not let the summer’s heat melt the snow.
My father walked to the snow and the snow invited us to an impromptu snowball fight; we giggled and laughed like a couple of kids. After a few minutes and lots of misses and a couple of hits we stopped, laughed, and continued our walk.
When I remember that day my memory invites me to thoughts about snow. As I think about snow, I think about the feelings associated with the first snow of the season. It was usually wet. It usually stuck to the trees, bending branches and blanketing the landscape with that incredible cover of white.
I grew up with clichés about snow and the clouds that produced snow. I remember my grandfather referring to the sky, saying: “Those are snow clouds.” I have said the same thing to my children. Those clouds that often do not produce snow are just heavy and black but definitely not rain clouds. But they are, in the daily language of folks from Northern Wisconsin, snow clouds. What also came to mind as I reflected on snow was the how that first snow caused a sense of excitement. Roger Ebert the movie critic once observed: “The very fact of snow is such an amazement.”
I think that is the best quote I have ever read about snow. It captures my feeling about snow, the first snow, when I would look up with amazement and wonder and watch the snow drop out of the sky and fall gently to the ground.
To this day it is amazement that leads me to stick out my tongue to catch a single flake on my outstretched tongue and taste what snow tastes like. It is amazement in the midst of summer heat to stand beneath a stand of hemlock trees and see the snow still surviving, long enough for a snowball fight between a father and son. Snow creates a sense of wonder as it beautifies the world with a blanket of white that signals a new beginning.
The flakes fell silently, my face felt wet,
each cold refreshing drop of frozen water,
landing on my skin, the sting was slight
but I was consumed by the amazement of snow
so I did not mind the sting or perhaps even feel the cold.
The flakes fell silently, and that is part of the wonder,
each flake landing silently, one on top of the other,
and soon, there is a pile of these beautiful crystals,
all making a blanket to cover the earth, the dead leaves,
and create something new, something to amaze.
The flakes fell silently, and as they fell they invited
participation with, interaction with, a kind of snow party.
Snow dances, sledding, skiing, and snow angels,
all part of the invitation to play in the snow.
Even adults, watching children sometimes with longing,
hear the snow beaconing them to come and touch
the snow and play in the world of amazement.
The flakes having fallen, covering every part of the landscape,
a blanket of white, an unblemished world, a white so
intense that it can only be described by song or poetry,
or play that is wild with abandon, as the covered ground is
is marked with the way amazement and wonder respond
to creation, to snow, and someone makes a snow angel,
and then goes on to play another game in wonderland.
So, as the snow begins to fall, as winter is poised to begin its long ascendency, write a story about snow. The first snow or the last snow, or the snow yet to come, Write On about your amazement, about snow.