This morning we woke up to the first snowfall of winter, a powdered-sugar dusting of it that made the view from my windowpane look like an old-fashioned postcard offering Seasons Greetings from a rustic place in the Adirondacks or New England. What a difference a little snow makes when it is glistening and new, especially when it is new to the eye, meaning you haven’t seen it in nine months or more. I always think I hate winter, and then the first snow arrives and it has the same effect as someone changing the furniture in a room (something my mother used to do brilliantly when I was child, changing up various rooms in our house in a way that created a different flow – a different dynamic – and making what was utterly familiar seem strikingly fresh and different). It made my rural neighborhood, which I already love, look idyllic in the way of those rustic places one thinks of when one couples the notions of romance and nature. The houses in my neighborhood are small and there is nothing fancy about them, but most are well-maintained and, with the pristine halo of snow about them concealing their driveways, covering over any cracks, accentuating the roundness of their trimmed shrubbery and the long trunks of the oak trees, they looked cozy and sweet today—not quite cabin-like, but giving the impression that a tiny Christmas village had come to life and that you could walk into any one of those homes and expect the welcoming aromas of coffee, tea and cookies baking, or see a basset hound snoozing on a couch.
Later in the day I went for a walk with my husband in the surrounding farm fields – a large expanse of acreage owned by the local university and resting at the base of a long ridgeline. It was so very cold, only 25 degrees, but the snow was still holding me in thrall. At various turnings, especially where a field met up with a fence row or a patch of woods, I would imagine scenes from favorite films and books. I could see Ada of Cold Mountain out shooting turkeys in the snowy North Carolina woods, suddenly training the barrel of her shotgun on a man who has just entered her awareness, whom she mistakes as a threat at first, not recognizing that it is Inman, the man she loves and whom she hasn’t seen since the start of the Civil War, four years before. I could see Jo and Laurie, of Little Women, racing on their ice skates on frozen Walden Pond. And though I could not picture Smilla (of Smilla’s Sense of Snow) in my neck of the world, I thought of her too, as I usually do every winter, navigating the snowy streets of Copenhagen with a man she simply refers to as the Mechanic, whom she doesn’t fully trust but is falling in love with as they attempt to solve the murder of a child. There is a passage from that book that I am thinking of tonight as I write this. It follows a scene in which Smilla, who is half Inuit and was raised by her mother in Greenland, remembers the first time she was able to “read snow” and guide the orientation of her mother’s tribe of hunters as they were making their way by dog sled through an area of winter winds and, later, dense sea fog. After recounting the experience and wondering if her memory of that day—when she discovered her innate sense of orientation—is correct, she observes: “Maybe it’s wrong when we remember breakthroughs to our own being as something that occurs in discrete, extraordinary moments. Maybe falling in love, the piercing knowledge that we ourselves will someday die, and the love of snow are in reality not some sudden events; maybe they are always present. Maybe they never completely vanish, either.” †
Perhaps that is the case for me. Every year when I think about the coming of winter, I tell myself that it is not my season and that I wouldn’t miss it if, by some odd happenstance, it bypassed us or if I lived someplace warm. I’m too old for it, I say. And then the first winter day arrives and, no matter how cold it is, it calls to me as if I were always longing for it to arrive, the way I longed for it in childhood.
†Excerpt is from Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a novel by Peter Høeg, translated by Tiina Nunnally; Translation copyright © 1993 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, NY, 1993, page 43)
By the way, this gorgeous photo is not my own; I found it on the web a few years ago and fell in love with it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I found it or to whom I should credit it.