*Somerset, PA Daily America, November 30, 2009
Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
The days that populate the time between the last of the fall leaves and that first snow are bland and colorless. Bare-limbed trees stand watch over fields of grass, dead and browned; no flowers bloom. The wind, delightfully cool during October, now blow cold, every breath containing sharp edges. Even on the sunniest of those ever-shortening days, it is a monochrome landscape; a world cast in sepia tones. But, the arrival of that first blanket of snow softens and brightens the world. Dull brown is covered by brilliant white and the earth becomes beautiful.
There’s something marvelously magical and exciting about the first snowfall of the season. You see it first as an occasional white streak on an otherwise dreary day. Then, a few more flutter down, and eventually, the very air becomes alive. The ground turns white and the world is transformed.
Snowfall is curiously hypnotic. Rarely do the flakes fall straight down. They flutter and dance in response to the unseen winds, even moving upwards close to buildings. They seem to reflect the moods of the storms that create them. When the winds are high, the flakes move in urgent angles, seemingly in a hurry to reach some unknown destination. Yet, on calm nights, they drift down softly, even dreamily to land soundlessly on the blanket of white that waits to receive them. Even though they share paths and directions en masse, each individual flake still possesses an independence of movement, unlike their warmer cousins the raindrops which always fall drone-like in straight lines. But, whatever the mood, whatever the pace, I am ever drawn to the window to watch, lost in fascination. It is grace and artistry as only Nature can produce.
The excitement of this event touches us all. For children, the sight of snowfall brings bright anticipation of sledding, snowmen, snowball fights, and the possibility of a precious day of freedom from school. Even adults feel changed. As jaded as we would like to pretend to be, the arrival of snow breaks up the daily routine in the most delightful ways. Our daily commute, having been Xeroxed into dull routine, becomes a challenge, even an adventure. Upon our arrival at work, the very air seems alive with talk of the weather. Everyone has a story to tell. Throughout the day, we sneak glances out the window, gauging the accumulation and wondering silently, perhaps hopefully, if The Boss might cut us loose early. Most times, when the storm ends relatively early, we all feel a bit let down by the return to normality. But once in a while, the snow keeps coming and we are left with a world transformed.
Once the clouds pass and the sun returns, the world becomes a different place. The landscape, once dull and lifeless, now wears a blanket that flawlessly covers the land. As you walk or ride along, the sunlight catches the angles of millions of crystalline flakes, turning the surface into a glittering quilt of diamonds. The winter sky, a dome of startlingly vivid blue arcs overhead and the air, free of haze or fog, gives distant objects a sharp clarity: Nature in HD. Despite the cold, the spirit soars, eyes light up, and smiles come easy. We are moved by a sense of playful urgency, knowing that the day will be short and we have but a few precious hours in which to enjoy it. Almost before we realize it, the shadows grow long as the sun races for the horizon. We feel the touch of that deeper chill; the approach of the night.
We trudge for home, knowing that a warm meal waits. After dinner, we settle in front of a fireplace and watch as the flames curl hungrily, sensuously around the logs, accompanied by the snap of sparks and the comforting smell of woodsmoke. As time passes, our diurnal natures take hold and the eyes become heavy. In July, to retire this early would have been a senseless waste of daylight. But now, the ancient instincts for hibernation take over, and we stumble to our feet and retire.
Just before crawling under the covers, though, we go to the window for one more look. The full moon hangs above, the gentle light reflecting off the snow. The world glows in the soft, silvery luminescence, painting a scene so beautiful and so peaceful that even the most jaded among us feel a stirring of emotion.
The winter is long, and eventually snow will lose is lovely appeal. There is, we discover, no romance in wielding a shovel. We will become grim to its arrival and numb to its presence. And by April, may actually feel some frustration as we yearn for the warmth of spring.
But that is months away. At this moment, there is nothing more magical or beautiful than that first snow of winter.