It is snowing today. It is also the first day of spring, and, mysteriously, behind that thick blanket of snow and clouds, there is a solar eclipse happening above us. I believe that the season of spring is an excellent time for new beginnings. And, I know that after this long winter of bitter cold and stinging snow and ice, we all want mother nature to turn over a literal new leaf and bring on springtime.
That being said, I am taking today's snowstorm as an opportunity, or, um, an excuse, to share with you why I think snow is one of the most wondrous things on earth.
Yes, it can be treacherous. Yet, it is lovely. Beautiful in piles of white and drifts of subtle blues and grays. It is cold and delicious and fun. It can be rolled, imprinted, and when it is just right, made into almost anything. But my favorite thing about the snow is not about how it feels or looks. It is about its sounds.
The whisper-soft plopping sound of wet heavy flakes. The icy tinkling sound of tiny crystals when they pelt the snow-encrusted ground. The whistle and slap of it when a gale forces it against the windowpane. All of these sounds are enjoyable. Especially, when you don't have to go out anywhere.
But I also love the way it alters other sounds in the natural world. Muffling some, yet making others more sharp, crisp, and delightful. Take, for instance, the sounds of a family sledding. The sounds of the sled on the snow are muffled by the contact. But the sounds of laughter filling the air are crystalline and gorgeous above the white hush of the ground.
After the laughter, the snow does its best acoustic trick. It holds a careful silence that somehow gives the elation of your laughter back to you, as though the snow is offering up its own contented long sigh.
I was a late coming to an appreciation of snow. As a child, I lived for many years further south in Virginia and Tennesee. We had snow there, but not a lot and not that often. It was not until my family moved to Pennsylvania that I began to truly enjoy snow.
It happened on the evening of one of the first snowstorms at our new home. There were five of us kids then, and we got out the sled and tried to sled down the gentle slope in between the farmhouse and the road. It was not very steep. We would later discover that we had to walk aways up and across the road to find the good, steep slope for sledding that was over near the heifer barn. But that night, we had a bit of a mediocre sledding experience in the front yard. At least until my dad came out to join us.
My dad is gruff. If you know him, you know he can be hard to approach at times. But that night he came out and piled us kids into the sled. and proceeded to pull us, running for all he could in the slippery, fluffy snow. He struggled with the turns and toppled us a few times. But all the while he ran, he laughed. He pulled and laughed with the sheer delight that only a good frolic in the snow can bring. And we laughed too. And when he grew tired from the work of it, oh, too soon, we begged him to keep going.
But he couldn't. My big brother, Kevin, tried to pull us for a time afterward, but it was really anti-climatic. As I sat there in the sled after the pulling and fun was over, I had the chance to just listen. In the distance,I heard the low howl of the wind in the spruce trees up the road, the ones planted by the great grandfather. When the wind quieted I heard the silence, the holding silence of the snow, that soft joyous sigh. I speculate that the gentle silence after laughter in the snow is so much richer in northeastern Pennsylvania because of the way the rounded, rolling hills carry and hold the sounds.
Or perhaps I am attached to these hills because they held and carried my forebearers for many generations now.
The laughter at the farm where I (almost) finished growing up is gone now. The kids have all grown, and there are no others that live there on the hill. But I carry the crisp enjoyment of snow with all its sounds and beauties within me. I pull my sons around on the sled, here in the valley that enfolds Bentley Creek where we have no hillsides to call our own. We sled down the humble, but appreciated, piles that Ross makes with the skid steer and laugh and tumble and feel blessed that after the laughter comes the snow's rich and utterly filled silence.