The snow started falling at 6:30 that morning. I know, because I was out for a short run. We’d been touched briefly in October, but now it was tumbling down.
The cats usually like to go out in the morning. This day there was reluctance. Somewhere in those feline brains was the remembrance of wet and cold paws.
Snow when it comes early in the season usually falls wet and sticky. This was no exception. As the temperatures dropped however, the wind picked up and what had been a slushy inconvenience became slick and difficult to navigate – on foot or in a vehicle.
The native peoples of the far north have many names for snow. They live with it for months on end and unlike modern men understand its nuances. To the unpracticed eye it’s all the same – it just needs to be removed. The observant and patient viewer sees more.
Oftentimes it is silent, starting slowly; each flake swinging back and forth in the air on an invisible swing. Crystals seen against the backdrop of an old blue jacket are uniquely shaped; cupped in an outstretched hand; they rest for one brief moment before relaxing into a little puddle. Large flakes brush the surface of an outstretched tongue, tingle lightly and then disappear.
As more snow pelts down, it stacks up on previous falls and the compression of treading feet on a cold night, creak and squeak. Then each cold detail is seen and heard, highlighted by the trees; black and white, white on black, contrasts rarely seen when leaves are at their fullest.
Snow comes, also driven by the Canadian Clippers of the Northwest Territories. Wind and snow form the raw materials of a blustery day into fantastic forms. A dynamic develops between wind, snow, fences and shapes of buildings, creating mountains where there were plains – valleys where white crystals race unimpeded between wood piles and garages. As the storm moves to another venue, cold calm returns, and what flowed before, becomes fixed for a time into a new topography.
All this ends as the sun moves to a different place in late March. What seemed so permanent, shifts and slides from rooftops. The promise of variety, color and warmth floods from overhead and puts a halt to the crystal clarity of cold winter nights.