Tuesday, December 7, 2010

let it...

it snowed this weekend. Maybe 3 inches. Its the first snow of the season, and my first 'first snow' in years. I was driving to have drinks with a friend when it started, and it smelled like rain. Smelled like wet concrete in summertime, but it was chilly and the snow was gonna start sticking really soon. And it just came down with a purpose for the next couple hours. We were sitting at a table far from the front windows, and yet the conversation was punctuated with exclamations like 'wow, its sure coming down' or 'man, thats pretty.' as much as we complain about the winter weather here in chicago, we are all pretty enamored with snow when its happening. I mean, no one wants to have to dig their car out of a space the snow plows have buried, and the grimy dark grey piles of city snow that accumulate are nowhere near good looking, and everyone worries about slipping and cracking their heads open until they have been able to retrain themselves to utilize their icy-sidewalk-shuffle at the approapriate times. However, we also spend a good amount of time talking about the different kinds of snow—tiny sparkles, large clumps of fluffiness, and all the sizes in between, the kind that will prolly only fall for 20 minutes, the kind that can go all night, the kind that makes you feel you are in a snowglobe—as well as our favorite snowy sights: an inch of snow piled up on every single branch (no matter how small) of all the barren trees along a street, snow angels left by small people in a yard, a spruce tree dropping a branch-load of snow cuz it was too heavy to hold up, watching snowfall from a skyscraper, seeing an outdoor xmas light-studded garland blanketed in snow, a group of kids having a snowball fight on their way home from school, the cityscape shifting from drab shades of grey into the dramatic high contrast of wet stone and brick and concrete against new snow.
Kids in this climate are very aware of the properties of 'good' snow for different activities. the exact perfect snowfall for catching a flake on your tongue, or making snow angels, or sledding, or packing perfect snowballs, are all different. The powdery stuff wanted for skiing and sledding is not wet enough to pack into a snowball or snowman. The tiny shimmery flakes that build up into a blanket so inviting for snow angels are nowhere near as good as the big clumps of snow globe snow for catching on a tongue. This is well known information in the younger set.
And the older kids (those of us who can drive) know the dangers of a freezing rain before a snowfall in creating the perfect skidding conditions. I have seen that kind of storm have its way with all kinds of vehicles on I-80, landing hundreds of them in the ditch on the side of the road. Ive seen it tear limbs off of trees with the weight of the ice and wet snow combined, or bend entire trunks of lithe thin birches over into arches where the top branches brush the ground near the roots. There is nothing quite as awe inspiring as surveying the destruction that one silent nighttime snowfall can do to a sparsely treed landscape (my small midwest college campus being an ideal example). Nor is there anything quite as startling as walking along a snow-hushed, tree-lined avenue on the peaceful afternoon after a storm only to have a tree branch ring out like a shot as it finally gives in and snaps from the weight, dumping a load of snow onto the sidewalk, feet from where you stand.
I remember one winter when I was in grade school, the snow came before the freezing rain, leaving a layer of ice on top of a six inch fall of snow. I was small (and lightweight) enough to, if treading carefully, walk—almost skate—over the ice without falling thru into the snow. Until i found a weak spot. Then i'd crash through and be up to my boot top in snow. It was a fun challenge to stay perched on the ice above. My brother and I took our sweet time getting home that day. We pretended we were trappers up north with snowshoes on, and we were being followed and couldnt leave evidence of where we'd been. We walked from the bus stop at the far end of our block to our house, leaving only about 10 footprints each scattered along the trail, but it took us a good half hour.
Ive missed this weather, living in seattle. Everyone thinks im kinda crazy for prefering bitter, dry cold of the midwest to the damp chill of the PNW. They forget that chicago winters have snow and sun (and efficient central heating) whereas the higher temperatures in seattle are accompanied by lower levels of sun. and whats the point of being cold if you arent going to get the fun of playing in the snow? I have caused myself to get ill before just to spend a whole afternoon building a fort that would ensure snowball war triumph, only to be made to come inside due to darkness and chill before anything more than minor skirmishes could be launched. Ive walked in the house stripping off mittens then gloves, boots and multiple pairs of socks, snowpants then jeans then long underwear, jacket, sweater, turtleneck and undershirt, finding each one of these items to be wet in most places, trying to run a not-very-hot bath that wouldnt make my extremities scream out in pain, and thought that every last bit of on-the-way-to-frostbitten agony was worth it.
Playing in the snow is what makes winter bearable. Take that away, take those days when the sun bouncing off the snowfall enough to make you squint like you are at the beach away, and you have nothing but crappy weather, bad insulation, and depression. Seattle winter is not winter and not fun. The greige gets into your bones and your brain and under yours skin and there is nothing redeeming to it. Having to mow the lawn in march is no consolation, it just makes me angry. (however, check back with me in the springtime, and ill be singing a different tune. Seattle knows that season far better than chicago. I only ever had a passing acquaintance with it until I moved west. Now its my pet.)
but I digress. So I will leave you with this:

No comments: