For the past several months, I’ve sensed a heaviness in my writing, an unbroken seriousness that leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that it’s time to crack a joke.
My recent columns have reflected what I believe to be the prevailing mood of late. The news, both national and international, has been mostly bad – at least for those who did not vote for Donald Trump at home, or who are distressed by humanitarian disasters abroad. Closer to home, family members have been ill, friends have lost parents, appliances have needed repair, and the pace of life has afforded little time for rest or reflection.
The time will come when this column will again regale you with lighthearted stories about how our daughter introduced herself to a stranger by saying “Prepare to meet your doom!” (“I said it in a welcoming way!” she protested later.) Or about how our dog escaped and ran over to the neighbors’ Christmas tree farm to harass their horses – at the exact moment a charter bus full of camera-toting tourists pulled into their driveway. Or about how the very loud smoke detectors that my super-safe husband placed all over our house, keep malfunctioning at late hours.
But this will not be that column; today I’m going to write about snow.
I know that many people worldwide manage to survive without snow. When our family lived in California for five years, I was one of those people. During that time, I don’t recall missing snow with any urgency, or being bothered by the fact that every season was more or less the same.
But now? Now, I can’t imagine living without snow. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I credit what snow we’ve had over the past month with helping me to persevere through heaviness, busy-ness, and bad news.
Sure, snow has its downside. It makes driving difficult. It makes frantic mornings a little more frantic when you realize that you need to add windshield scraping to your list of chores. It has caused me to tell my husband over the past month: “We need a mudroom management strategy.”
But these inconveniences pale in comparison to what snow can give.
Snow refreshes our view of the world’s beauty.
Stare at any one scene long enough and, no matter how beautiful, it will become commonplace. I am thankful for the large picture window over our kitchen sink, through which I look out over a rolling field surrounded by towering trees. But after several months of seeing this same gorgeous scenery multiple times a day, I was starting to take it for granted.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, we had the first real snow of the year. That morning, my view of the world was brand new. Thanks to snow, I noticed every branch, every evergreen bough, every contour of the land, highlighted in brilliant white.
As I washed the breakfast dishes, I was reminded that the world is indeed beautiful. I was reminded that things change, that time moves forward, and that today’s mundane view could be rendered into something spectacular by tomorrow.
Snow provides both recreation and rest.
On a snowless winter day, when the icy wind whips through the valley and the light fades at 4:30 PM, it’s a losing battle to convince my daughters to go outside. They will wrestle on the furniture, shriek and kick and pull hair, dump out all the Legos and spill all the paints and drop popcorn all over the kitchen floor. But suggest that they take their energy outside? No way!
Add a little snow, and everything changes. On a snowy morning, my oldest girls pull on snow pants and coats right after breakfast, strap on their Nordic skis, and disappear outside until I have to call them in. My younger daughters sweep the snow off of the large frozen puddle in our front yard (the upside of heavy clay soil and poor drainage), put on their ice skates, and glide around. Or they’ll raid our shed for a wheelbarrow and garden tools to play “ice harvesters.” When there’s snow on the ground, my girls have been known to keep sledding long after dark.
Sometimes I join in this recreation, but sometimes snow allows me to rest. While my children are playing happily out in the snow, I can wash the dishes, do the laundry, sweep the floor, or just stare out the window without being interrupted by questions or disputes. With four young children, every minute of silence is a gift; in drawing my noisy little loved ones outside, snow gives me this gift in abundance.
Snow opens new paths.
For over a year, we have known there was a beaver pond beyond the northwest corner of our property, but because of the thick, waist-high tangle of weeds surrounding our field, we hadn’t been able to properly investigate.
Enter winter, and snow: With the leaves off the trees, the weeds reduced to sparse, dried stalks, and the smooth snow revealing paths where once there were none, my daughters and I set off one afternoon to explore.
We began at the beaver pond, which was frozen enough to uphold careful walking (with occasional feet-through-the-ice incidents providing just the right amount of adrenaline-pumping excitement.) We located the mound of the beavers’ house, where the beavers overwinter in cozy burrows dug beneath the muddy banks. Then we followed the frozen stream, a tributary of Muddy Branch, about 500 meters south.
It turns out that “our” beaver pond is part of a network of beaver ponds, with impressive dams blocking the water in at least three spots along the stream. We saw the tracks of deer, rabbits, birds, and mid-sized mammals (Coyote? Bobcat? House cat? We enjoyed speculating.) We found an enormous tree, easily a century old, which dangled huge gnarled branches into the frozen pond below. My daughter climbed one of these branches and found an old board nailed across the bottom boughs, remnants of somebody’s old hunting stand.
It was another world, but it had been there all along, just a few yards from our house. And without the snow, we could never have accessed it so easily.
Now, my thoughts will often slip across the field, past the trees and the old barbed wire fence, to where the beavers busily fell trees and build their houses and dams, the deer drink from the stream, and the bobcats hunt for food. They haven’t heard the latest news of political intrigue, atrocities of war, or sick relatives, and they don’t care. They’re just doing what they do, and what they’ll go on doing after today’s news is older than that huge old tree.
Somehow, I find this immensely comforting.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.