Ode to a Snowstorm

I love snow but hate winter. At first that statement might seem to be nonsensical but let me explain. I don’t have expertise in many areas of life but I have a PhD in surviving under the type of house arrest we Canadians call winter. Winter is a season, a stretch of short, grey, cold days that are broken only by Environment Canada’s promise of a heavy snowfall warning. Snow on the other hand is an event, one that promises a fresh coat of white snow to cover the bleakness, a promise of a day where the rest of the world is shut out; muffled by heavy falling white curtain.

I have many fond memories of snowy days, if I close my eyes I can put myself on Broad Street in Sussex, walking by the train station in a heavy snowstorm. I don’t know if it’s a real memory or just a collection of experiences I’ve saved up and stuck together but I can see a younger me pushing the snow off one of the picnic tables left from the summer, sit down and look around. I can still hear the big wet flakes falling quietly through the oak trees which always seemed to hold onto their brown leaves well into the winter. They would make a whispering sound as they fell, unless there was sleet mixed in, which made a sound like a billion tiny beads falling through the wrinkled leaves. There are other sounds too, the sound of my breath filtering out through a scarf, defying the seemingly impenetrable blanket of flakes by rising up into the night sky. Occasionally there is the sound of kids’ voices playing which seem so close yet distant, you can never make out exactly what they’re saying but you can always make out the sound of laughing, maybe the storm chooses to just carry the sound of laughter, sinking everything else and burying it till spring. Of course there is the inevitable sound of a metal scraping against pavement; sometimes it’s a shovel fighting a losing battle against the snow, sometimes the sound of a snowplow pushing back the snow banks, interrupting itself over and over with the beeping sound of a reverse warning. Starting to feel the chill of melting snow I get up and start walking again, my boots crunching the snow underfoot combined with the swishing of snow pants almost seem deafening after the stillness of sitting quietly. The yellowish streetlights overhead light up triangles of falling snow, you can judge how hard it’s snowing looking down the street and counting how many lights you can see, the best storms are when the visibility is cut down to a few streetlights and the whole world is shrunk down to a unpredictable dome you just happen to be the center of. Occasionally I meet someone walking the other way, maybe I know them, maybe I don’t, it’s hard to tell when everyone is wrapped head to toe against the cold, I give and receive back the universal greeting, a short nod of the head and continue on my way. A green government plow rolls by, its huge angle blade spraying the occasional spark off the pavement and drowning out all other sounds for a few moments. From the back its spreader sprays out rock salt which bounces along the snow and against the curb, the salt melts a pattern in the snow that looks like a picture of the earth at night taken from space. Small points of white scattered around surrounded by pitch black pavement. Before you know it the plow is gone, enveloped into the darkness, the last thing to disappear is its flashing strobe lights but then they are gone too and I’m alone again.

It’s November and I’m sitting at my office, which happens to be a Starbucks in Birkdale Village, its 22C outside and looks more like summer than winter even with the forty foot Christmas tree outside. Canadian winters seem far away, almost in another life time, I wish I could put myself back there right now, walk a few km in the snow and think about life, love, and friends.