As the twelfth inch of snow mounds into inch number thirteen, I hustle through the kitchen on my way to the laundry room. En route, I throw a passing glance out the narrow window with a view past the carport and the bird feeder to the woods that slope down toward the creek. The aspect outside the window is murky with falling snow, and the sky above -- what little I can see from the bottom of our steep-walled hollow -- barely clears the tops of the trees, the clouds hanging blank and heavy. Beyond the three florescent bulbs of the overhead kitchen light, the world has been turned into a black and white photo.
It's a world of angles, with every possible horizontal niche exploited as a gathering place for snow. Every tree trunk sports a fungus-like growth of white: the storm blew up from the south and the southern furrows and grooves in the bark have collected clots of snow like massed mycelium, fruiting bodies that ruffle like rows of lace in rumba panties. As it fell, the snow was cold enough so that it was fine and nearly without weight, but the temperature was just warm enough so that the individual flakes stuck like glue: to tree bark, to branches, to hemlock needles, to each other. With no wind, the stillness of the falling snow mounded on top of itself into gravity-defying formations: sinuous albino columns six, seven, even ten inches tall overbalance from side to side along the length of a branch like fat-bodied, slumbering anacondas, and weirdly shaped hoodoos of peaks and knobs were spawned by what appeared to be totally featureless surfaces. White pine trees still young enough to support a whorl of branch-starts in foot-high increments along the trunk have been cinched with triangular notches as if by some tireless, anonymous lumberjack. Weighted by mounds of snow, hemlock branches trail underfoot.
A world without color. Oh maybe there's a little green left in the needles of the white pines or in the feathered plumes of hemlock branches but the overwhelming absoluteness of white seems to rob all other hues of their intricacies: they are converted to foils, darkness to the snow's light. Even objects that I know contain color -- laurel leaves, my coat, the shovel handle: my eyes refuse to register any tone or shade or tint other that darkness.
I have heard people talk of snow as being monotonous and maybe this is what they refer to: it is a landscape without color. But every snow is different, every winter evening is unique. December darkness comes early and by dusk the temperature might be twenty, thirty, even forty degrees below freezing. The black sky dances with the ghostly greens of the aurora, the lake ice plinking like a guitar string as fingers of cold penetrate the snow, penetrate the ice to the deep, living heart of the lake where bass and bluegills blink in frozen torpor, lion and lamb lying together as their blood slowly congeals. Trees crack like gunshot when the sap inside the trunk expands and then explodes. The snow crunches like a mouthful of granola underfoot.
March dusk, long and lingering and just a few degrees below freezing. The snow squeaks instead of crunches. It packs underfoot like clay, like building blocks. This is snowman snow, snow fight snow. It drapes across tree branches like a living thing and the slightest wind avalanches it downward with a satisfying "whump!" It's snow day snow, getting out of school early snow, the stuff of dreams and desires and angels.
And later in March comes the klister snow: you don't glide on this snow, you battle it. It's like moving through oatmeal or the Colorado River: too thick to drink and too thin to walk on. Gooey, slick: not solid, not liquid but a tantalizing, maddening, muscle-pulling defiance.
I should be working on dinner right now, chopping veggies and sautéing onions. Instead I remain as still as the dying day in front of the kitchen window. A world of snow is not a world of object but of images. A hemlock tree becomes a white-habited nun, her limbs held tight against her body in prayer. Snow converts individual fence posts into an army of white-helmeted soldiers standing at attention. A puff of wind is the exhale of a warm-blooded creature, fogged with riled flakes. An opening in the stream: a steaming witch's caldron. A boulder: a hastily frosted chocolate cake. This hillside: a voluptuous curve of human flesh.
Color, light, clarity: these imbue a landscape with undeniable beauty but they also leave nothing to the imagination: on a bright summer day, a field of blooming wildflowers is simply that: no more and no less. There's nothing that can be said about it: metaphors attached to summer scenery invariably disappoint, like underwear from Wal-Mart or the "ooh" that follows a particularly amazing outburst of fireworks. I don't know if my winter images arise because the starkness of the surrounding world frees my mind from the literalness that accompanies variety and color, or if these images are created as a defensive mechanism to protect my sanity in this silent world bereft of color. Whatever the cause, I've spent over an hour now gazing out of this window at nothing -- or at a hundred million things, real and imagined, each as unique as the snowflakes that consecrated them.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources