When I was a kid back in Arkansas, snow wasn’t unheard of, but it was always an event bordering on the miraculous. The heavens would open up and make the view from my bedroom window look like a Christmas card, and somehow that meant I got a brief reprieve from long division.
It was enough to turn an 8-year-old into a psalmist: “The Lord is my meteorologist, I shall not want; He maketh me to lie down and make snow angels,” etc.
School would get canceled at the first sign of flurries, and then there’d be a run on canned goods at the grocery store.
If anything accumulated by the next morning, my mom would take arty snapshots of her azalea bushes and patio furniture under a light dusting of white, while my sisters and I bundled up to explore the winter(ish) wonderland outside.
There was never enough frozen building material to construct a proper snowman. Our attempts tended to look underweight and distressed, like the anguished figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
I had a sled, but it was hard to get it going on such a thin layer of snow—already melting under the sun by, say, 10am. And if you did achieve forward motion, you were in for a bumpy ride due to the protruding sticks and pebbles in the path.
We’d go back inside at lunchtime for grilled cheese sandwiches. Later, there’d be reruns of The Brady Bunch to watch on Superstation TBS.
All in all, not a bad way to spend a day—pebbly sledding, ephemeral wonderland, and agonized Expressionist snowman notwithstanding.
I credit the rarity of Arkansas snowfall with keeping me from regarding wintry precipitation solely as a nuisance after I drifted northward as an adult. Sure, I have done my share of grumbling over sidewalk shoveling and windshield scraping. But now and then I’ll get flashes of the old magic.
I recall, for instance, walking down a tree-lined street in Chicago one winter evening when it was snowing. I passed a little neighborhood church that was illuminated by a corner streetlamp. Everything was white—the fat flakes that were falling, the whitewashed bricks of the building, the yard it was standing in, the sidewalk I was walking on—and everything was quiet, save for the squeaky crunch of my boots on the snow.
And I experienced one of those holy moments of awe that become, as you grow older, as rare as, well, a blizzard in the Ozarks. Oh, that’s right, I’ll remember in such moments. The world is full of wonders. How could I forget?
The scene remains vivid in my mind because in the very next moment I came to an icy patch in the unshoveled sidewalk and my feet slipped out in front of me and I fell hard on my ass.
Oh, that’s right, I remembered, limping back home while the bruise bloomed on my tailbone. The world is full of dangers and indignities. How could I forget?
Of course, the melancholy half-perception that beauty won’t last is probably one of beauty’s essential components. Snow will melt or turn into gray slush or cause an orthopedic injury. Awe gives way to drudgery. Long division can’t be deferred forever. That’s what makes life’s snow days—so few, so fleeting—precious in the first place.