There are few things more magical than a snowfall, and few terms more overused to describe it.
Nonetheless, the cliché communicates the outright miracle of slowing a world that refuses to slow itself. As the flakes fall, and the cardinals and Jenny wrens bob back and forth from feeder to trees, I am entranced.
24 hours later, I am so over it.
I have a running dialogue with a very dear friend that begins around the end of November and continues ad nauseam until the daffodil blossoms break.
She maintains that if it’s cold, it should snow.
I maintain that, as the Mid-Atlantic is a region where there is no chance of snow hanging around long-term and insulating the ground against the normal onslaught of frigid temperatures, nor is it a region filled with 9,000 foot peaks topped with cozy skiing lodges for the intrepid, I’m good without the occasional complication and accompanying suburban media freak-out.
This year she started a shared text thread with my equally enthusiastic daughter (for whom she functions as a ‘cool,’ alternate, mom), where they exchange GIFs of pandas rolling down snowy hills, and Will Ferrell nonsense, and frequent screen shots forecasting ‘snow events’ (when did we change this terminology I wonder), and I counter with the Heat Miser shaking his fists at the skies.
My friend’s enthusiasm is childlike and wonderful, and an extension of an enviable personality that searches for merit before fault. Secretly I am ashamed at the contrariness it instantly inspires in me (and which Scott Beuerlein constantly falls over himself to mention). But I am a pragmatic soul, and there are animals to care for, and so many young shrubs and trees that often need tying up or careful, post-event extrication.
Five years ago, a rogue snow storm dumped 24 inches in two days and 18 inches a few days later. It quite literally flattened my new and precious Edgeworthia chrysantha, splitting branches which I had to meticulously excavate and then (successfully) splint with flexible tape.
My friend was not splinting her edgeworthia. She was sledding.
Throughout several nights I had to trudge down to the vegetable garden to keep cheap and cheerful mini-hoophouses from collapsing under the weight of the snow, wondering if the lettuce and chard was really worth it. In waist-high drifts we dug a tunnel from house to far-off woodyard to feed the furnace to keep us warm.
My friend is not checking hoophouses. She is not feeding a furnace. The deeper the snow, the happier she is drinking cocoa indoors and watching her Husky frolic like the dog he was born to be.
The year of that record snow was also the year that one of the male guineas had an injured foot and the other male chased his limping, broken figure so relentlessly over icy drifts that even my flint-like heart broke in sympathy.
Catching either one of them was laughably impossible. Instead we watched the Order of All Things unfold in front of us every morning over breakfast and developed hearts even harder than the ones we had started with.
This year I have an injured duck, whose bill is now half a bill thanks to the attentions of a wicked raccoon. Each morning I head down to the duck house with a kettle of boiling water to unfreeze their water trough and a bowl of soupy oatmeal to scoop into my hand and force her to eat much like a French goose heading for foie gras.
I’m not saying that kneeling in duck poo and runny oatmeal with clumps of snow melting in the space between my inner thighs and a squirming bird isn’t invigorating. I’m just saying that there are better ways of being invigorated.
Yes, it is beautiful. There are mornings when my eyes open to rest upon the pink-flushed bark of the young tulip poplars against a hillside of white – and I am sweetly and painfully thankful for this cathedral in the woods. Yes, it is very beautiful.
And to rail against the inconvenience of snow is not to rail against winter. I am no fair-weather gardener, and once I have made the mental shift from the growing season to the ice-times, I willingly, if reluctantly, battle the cold, clothed warmly and gratefully against it each day.
It’s just that the snow makes everything a little more…complicated.
My husband says we live in a place of winter purgatory – forced to endure cold temperatures without the skiable Sierra Nevada mountains of our youth.
Perhaps he is right. Perhaps the snow is an issue for me because most of the time, it isn’t.
Or perhaps the fairly recent lack of little ones taking delight in the occasional snowfall has me reducing something miraculous to a clinical list of pros and cons.
Or maybe it’s just COVID making me an intolerant witch lately.
So what do you say? Snow good? Snow bad? And do avoid shaming me for considering my USDA 6b garden as extreme, or characterizing my piddling flocks and domestic pets as ‘animals’. I recognize that in the scheme of things, this most definitely makes me a snowflake. – MW