Snow at last…

What a relief to wake up to snow last week!  It’s been many weeks of bare ground here in southern Maine, with several days of ice thrown in.  In my entire life, I’m not sure I’ve experienced a January so bereft of one of the defining features of a Maine winter. I wonder about the impact on plants and trees, accustomed to surviving winter with thick blankets of snow as insulation for their roots.  How do snowshoe hares and snowy owls fare, when their intended camouflage is actually a beacon against a brown landscape?  Can amphibians, nestled deep into pond bottoms, feel the difference between a pond covered in snow and one in ice?  My heart aches for all these creatures and more, so perfectly adapted to live a wintry world that is becoming less wintry each year.

And what about humans?  Of course, we don’t need snow to survive in the way plants and animals adapted to cold climates do (at least on a daily basis–snow obviously serves a tremendous ecological need purpose that humans need for long term survival.)  In any case, I’d guess at least half the humans in the world have never even seen snow. (That is a highly unscientific estimate–definitely don’t quote me and please reach out if you have actual data on this one!)  But for those of us raised and/or living in cold climates, although we don’t need snow in daily life, I do believe it can become part of us in a profound way.  A few experiences that cold climate dwellers may have an embodied response to…(recognizing that everyone’s experience is different and there are so many reasons someone may not have positive associations with snow)

  • Snow day!  That feeling of plans being wiped instantaneously.  A day suddenly as clear and full of promise and possibility as the snow covered landscape outside.
  • That sense of newness that comes with a snowfall.  How quickly the sand and salt from the plows, the dog poop, the left behind toys, the clutter, all disappear underneath a clean, soothing blanket.  The mind can ease.
  • Snow can change everything.  Trees weighed down with snow can turn your daily walking path into an unfamiliar tunnel.  Off-path excursions can be had with more confidence as you can simply follow your footprints home.  (As long as you’ve taken all the appropriate winter hiking safety measures, of course.)  What was a routine stroll is now an adventure, each step offering a new view and perspective.
  • Fresh snow is an amazing base for animal tracks–our own as well as the animals that dwell in the woods.  Being able to see the paths of all the creatures sharing our own highlights so clearly that we are surrounded by so much life, connected even when the world appears cold and empty.
  • Alive with all our senses.  Snow cover muffles many sounds, and we can hear our footsteps.  We can feel snow flakes on our faces, notice our breath deepening and legs tingling as we navigate through an extra layer of mass.  We can look back to actually see our footprints–so many steps we never typically recognize.  Cold noses on heads sweaty from thick wool hats, nostrils teasing out sensations of cold air going in and warm coming out.  Embodied.
  • Moving across the land on skis or skates, far faster and more smoothly than unadorned human legs can possibly go.  It’s not flying, exactly (especially not for those of us who have no risk tolerance and prefer to snowplow at the slightest hint of speed), but it certainly does feel like freedom.

What are we losing?

What does it mean for the human mind and body accustomed to these winter interludes and mind/body experiences to go without them?  I don’t have an answer to this question.  Part of me hesitates to think too deeply about the answer…I know it hurts.  A recent New York Times article, What it Means to Look at Paintings of Snow, addresses this pain a bit, and offers several evocative images of snow from artists that cross the world and generations.  I do wonder what folks who live in places without snow know about moving through the seasons.  Are they better attuned to appreciating more subtle contrasts and beauties?  To finding rhythms and gentle shifts in the seasons that I can’t even imagine as one so accustomed to the dramatic, obvious presence of snow?

What now?

What I know for certain is that in this moment, finally gazing out on a yard blanketed in snow and a sky filled with gently falling flakes, I feel a tremendous relief.  I am going to soak in this frosty landscape, literally and figuratively, as much as I can.  I know there is no guarantee this much awaited accumulation will last.  And unfortunately, it is almost certain that the woods will spend many more days without snowy blankets in coming years.  A snowshoe hare doesn’t get to choose their color on any given day to blend into a changing landscape.  An individual tree doesn’t get to up and move to a more insulated spot.  But as a human, I can choose, today.  I can choose to immerse myself in the snowy landscape as much as possible while it’s here.  At least for now, I can access possibility, ease, adventure, connection, embodiment, and freedom through the simplicity of accumulated frozen water.  Choosing to soak in the snowy landscape now will help fuel my choices in the future; choices that hopefully can eventually help bring back the snow, where and when it belongs.