On this last snowfall day of the year in New York, which is both a prediction and an assertively stated wish, I salute snow. Each year I’m thankful for its hush, for that blanket of stillness that descends bit by bit like manna. Is it God as mother icing the cake? Or God as the artist Christo wrapping a city of skyscrapers in a wintry blanket and nestling it in his arms?
On the pointiest tips, the snow leaves a fluffy crown. Every tree branch is asked to hold a white twin formed precariously above it glistening in the sun, whisked off by each gust of wind.
I’ve seen dogs start wagging their tails and romping as they approach Central Park. They like snow too, whether they are big or minuscule, long-haired or short-haired, naturally unadorned or bedecked to comic effect in booties and a cloth coat. Parents come out early on weekends pulling tots on sleds, with older children toting armfuls of snow toys. They enter the park gates to make a fun-filled day of it, kids sliding down hills, running up hills, red-cheeked, hair wet with sweat. Even the otherwise sullen teens snowboard down the highest hills and toboggan in big groups, giving up their cool for a few hours or, if that’s too difficult, trying death-defying stunts.
I rush to my window to see each snowfall when I’m at home. Sometimes I pull up a chair to watch the action. Will the snow descend evenly like a curtain or in fistfuls and clumps? Will it melt as it hits the pavement or stick and accumulate? It’s out of my hands, so I just enjoy the show.
Sometimes I take out my cross country skis, poles and boots, put on my black fleece tights, a shirt, a vest, an old red-and-white Gortex shell and an itchy white wool hat with a huge yarn ball on top and take to the trails. I revel in it if the snow is new, which means that I can glide slowly enough to stay erect. I cannot ski downhill, and I’m not good at cross-country skiing, either. But I once spent a fabulous week alone skiing the trails in Yellowstone Park. I would soak my tired body in an outdoor hot tub each night, looking up at the treetops and, some evenings, the moon.
“Want to see snow?” my dad asked my brother and me. We were in high school but, having grown up in Phoenix, had never seen snow. Dad had to deliver a car to Flagstaff, in the Arizona snow bowl. When we stopped at a gas station, my brother went over to a big bank of hardened snow, grabbed a handful and threw it, hitting me in the head, which bled profusely. We never got out of the car again during that trip, nor did we believe snowflakes was the right word for it.
At the University of Notre Dame, I had to learn to walk in snow, angled forward with knees bent a little, or I’d fall repeatedly on the walkways across the campus.
My favorite memory of this year’s snowfall is of a walk to work early one morning. I came toward the crest of the last hill and saw a love letter writ large in the snow: “I love Delores.” This lover publicly proclaimed the message for all who passed to read. It was no private, handheld tablet note, no personal e-mail message, but rather a proclamation of billboard size. I was mystified by the lack of discernible footprints around it. It must have been etched with a long stick.
Of course, this declaration would melt with the sun. I felt honored to have seen, almost heard it—the writer’s voice was so excited. And I pondered my own feelings of love so overwhelming once that the breaking news of it seemed worthy of a front-page headline in The New York Times. I never thought of snow-writing, though I once considered hiring a sky-writing plane.
Snow, I couldn’t applaud at your last curtain call today, your performance seemed so half-hearted. But I will say, until next time: Adieu.