Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snow Garden: From Fantasy Land to Meltdown



            All day the snow fell slowly, silently, steadily. It was a modest snow, but a reliable snow. An unexpected snow; but a persistent one. We kept waiting for it to stop.
            No day-long storm had been forecast. But "storm" was hardly the word for the decorous, playful, Candy-Land style of weather event we were experiencing. Nothing about this snowfall suggested anything stronger than the results you get by turning a snow globe upside down and shaking it.
           The day was a Monday, windless and silent. Gray. Not very cold. A day for recovering from Superbowl parties and keeping a low profile. Since the thermometer barely hovered above freezing -- thirty-three at the start, thirty-two later one; and since temperatures usually rise rather than fall during the midday and afternoon, it seemed likely that the precipitations would soon turn to rain and wash the whole scene free of whatever brief, delicate mirage the morning had entertained us with.
            The falling snow had the salty, sandy consistency of any slight gesture from a wintry sky. Not one of your grand meteorological entrances, no blaring of heavenly trumpets announcing a four-star named event, a major production with Oscar aspirations... But the slow drift downward of a passing mass of gray cloud, a provincial cloud posse amusing itself on an unimportant morning during a slow trek to the north where presumably the real action would take place. This mass would probably reach the ocean soon, and then -- who knew what would happen there? But it would probably be all over here.
            But the gentle fall, which seemed too slight to do anything but cuddle on the grass and trees and the softer surface of earth and made no impression whatsoever on the hard, impervious surfaces of sidewalk and roadway -- the roads remained black and shiny and uninterested while the thin snow fell; the occasional vehicle passing without concern -- began to make a more permanent impression.
            We had now achieved a powdering. The spaces between the white areas, yards and shrubbery, began to fill in, whiting over the landscape, filling its canvas, making it one. The sidewalks would be next. In the next half-hour they glazed over.
            The glaze was like a fresh coat of paint. So it was this kind of snowfall, we thought. A whitewash. A fresh coat of white, of whatever consistency and duration, would definitely be an improvement on the harsh, gray, seemingly dead winter landscape revealed when the most recent snow cover melted off.
            Another hour passed. The snow laid a thickening blanket on the streets. It would stop now, we felt, for sure, having exceeded all expectations. It had made its point. But whenever you looked out the window, it still came drifting down -- slow as ever, directionless, unemotional, quiet as time.
            It was the objective correlative of time. If you colored time white, that was what it would look like.
            If you turned the snow flakes to music, it would sound like Tim Story's "Asleep the Snow Came Flying."


            If you wanted to know what it was to be "asleep" while still awake you could stare hypnotically out the window as the snow sank soundlessly down.
            At last the birds got busy. They had decided, at last -- though they hadn't believed it either -- that this was a genuine snowfall. Someone in bird land pressed the red alert for "snow day." Birds attacked the feeder in waves. 
            All afternoon the birds fed, and the snow fell. You began to hear the distant rumble of the plows and sanding trucks. It wasn't a deep accumulation; deep wasn't in the vocabulary of this fantasia style of snowfall. But it was clearly a fill-in all the gaps accumulation.
            Somewhere in the midday the cardinal paid his call. He comes to the weeping cherry tree on occasion, posing in the bare upper branches, turning this way and that. He stays only long enough for a comprehensive look-around, then quickly departs. The interesting thing is that the second male cardinal, identical in most respects, follows him a split second later and goes through the same routine. He lights up the scene draws the landscape around him.
            By nightfall the snow hung thickly on every tree, branch, wire, and other raised surface, molding itself perfectly over your car.
            In the streetlights that evening, these coatings made for a winter wonderland impression, decking all the trees, especially the evergreens with white tufts, surface accents, a meteorological molding. It's a marvelous effect produced by a very wet snow; something I had failed to realize, though it made sense given the temperature.
            A snow this wet, I told myself, will fall from all the branches tomorrow in the sun. We'll have it for only one night.
            Never mind. There's another one on the way.