Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snow Garden


The world is growing snow.
We wait for the snow all day. It’s the event of the season. Sure it’s been nasty cold for most of a week, but a big game-changing storm is something else. We walk to the windows again and again on Saturday, peeking to see if it’s started. We buy and decorate a Christmas tree, molding our schedule around the anticipated arrival. With the car gone through the most of the day, Anne and I walk to the store for the final holiday ritual item, the cranberries we use for garlands, interleaved with popcorn. Immediately there is the feel of snow in the air. Would we say this if we didn’t know a snowstorm has been forecast? It starts just as we are getting ready to go to bed. Indoors, the tree is decorated with the trophies of youth, kid crafted items, along with handmade ornaments from my cousin’s wife given each year the children were still children, pickings from the old cardboard boxes of ornaments inherited from my parents, the few we bought along the way, the mysterious visitors we find in the boxes that no one can account for – and, of course, this year’s version of our annual popcorn and cranberry string-art.
Outdoors, wind swirling, the storm quickly blankets the streets. Small, serious, dense flakes. In the morning it drifts and piles up on the porch, a difficult wind angle. We have a concert to go to, The Revels, but no one is in a hurry to put the first shovel-blade into the natural installation of the finely drifted snow.
Birds clutter around the feeder and perch on the nearby lattice of branches. We have our cardinal moment: the persistence of nature red in crest and feather framed by a mineral white world.
The garden, a clutter of greenish, brownish, grayish surfaces disappears, swallowed by a new occupation. An invasion, a top-down regime, the cold hand of martial law. The plants must think we’ve abandoned them to the alien invaders from the sky. They’re right. I can’t spare a thought for anything alive out there, because I’m not ready for the smack in the face that greets each day. It’s not the snow, it’s the days of wind chill that follow it. Too much snow to walk in the woods. Too much wind to walk by the shore. I tromp disconsolately around the neighborhood, inspecting the sidewalks — a noticeably improved performance in clearance, even at the corners, over last year. Did everyone get the memo? (Even though we never sent it.)
I lose the outdoors. But less than a week later I get it back, when warmer temperatures bring rain and turn the snow to melt water.
We come back from the annual holiday stay in New York to a changed vista. I can look out the windows again. Snow has its beauty, but snow glare kills my eyes. I am astonished to find the world still alive, at least to appearances. Even plants that were green and deciduous when the snow struck are right where we left them. They may be dead (what plant doctor/lawyer decides when plants are legally dead?), but the color of the blown leaves is still green. My ground-level collection of low ground covers mixed with a large helping of dried brown leaves appears unchanged. A few late perennials look like they’ve spent a week in the refrigerator, but hold up at a distance.
Death, where is thy sting?
Of course it’s wicked cold again, and I’ve avoided freezing my fingers and toes even at simple jobs like taking the garbage out.
And in the matter of those still unopened buds on the rose bush, I’m not sure we’ll ever see them do their stuff. But the green world has survived.