Any day now, it’s going to happen. You’ll be going about your usual routine—waking up in the dark, returning from work in the dark, eating carbohydrates until you fall asleep in front of Cupcake Wars—when a special weather alert will interrupt a detailed explanation of ginger cardamom buttercream icing infused with hibiscus flowers and stray hairs from angels. A man with dark hair and a bright smile will break the news: Snowpocalypse is coming and it’s bringing three feet of “the white stuff” with it.
Decision time. Are you going to, like most Americans, freak out, race to the store and fill your trunk with TP and batteries (because apparently all you’re going to do during Snowmaggedon is sit on the toilet and listen to the radio you no longer own)? Or will you, as I do, see a snowstorm as not an end of days scenario, but a great gift from Mother Nature.
You can make up your mind while the snow falls. To pass the time, often I cook, which in the winter basically means ten minutes of chopping followed by hours of slow simmering that makes your house smell like a Food Network set. Or you can just head straight to the couch with a book or magazine that’s been sitting untouched on the coffee table for months. I usually read for ten minutes before falling asleep.
When I wake up a few hours later, it is Christmas morning. While I was making a long overdue deposit to the sleep bank, Mother Nature made me a soft, pillowy surprise. The trees are shrouded in white, the sidewalks are impassable, the car buried beyond recognition. I strap on my boots and head outside.
Just after the snow stops falling is the best time to be out. The chorus of snowblowers has not yet begun. The plows haven’t rattled to life. The snow is absolutely fresh, and like Lewis and Clark, my bootprints are the only ones. In front of me stretches the barren, untouched landscape. As I press on, all that remains behind are two lonely lines of my little feet.
The ground is a blank, white slate; I wander over it where I choose, trails be damned. The trees tell me where not to go, and the rest is mine, the reward for pressing out into the elements while others choose furnace-managed surrender.
I like the dramatic unquiet of the woods after a snowfall. A shot of birdsong, with no other noise to mask it, is loud and crisp, piercing the heart like a Verdi aria. A woodpecker rattling on a branch is a jackhammer on a Manhattan sidewalk. And the most dramatic noise of all—the trees, white suits tossed on over brown skin, creak as they sway in the winter wind, the settling of their bones as human and troublesome as the groaning of our own joints on cold winter mornings. In between these sounds, my thoughts thrum, until I remember their unimportance and turn them off. The cold, cold air cleanses my lungs, sending all the junk out my nose. I wipe it on my sleeve. Who’s there to see?
We don’t get a lot of solitude these days. First, there’s the people. They’re everywhere! Driving their cars, honking their horns, asking us if everything is tasting all right, if we have some ID, if we read the memo. And even when the people aren’t there, the screens scream for our attention. We forget to turn them off, we forget to leave them at home. We forget to lie and say we’re busy so that we don’t have to go out, so we can stay at home and soak up some much needed peace and quiet.
Our modern world does not look kindly upon winter. We resent the short days and sapped energy, and scour the internet for articles on how to beat seasonal affective disorder. But winter isn’t for doing. Winter, accompanied by its periodic salvo of sound- and thought-dampening snow, is not for organizing your closets or scanning all your old photos or putting up shelves in the garage like you say you will every winter. It is a time to rest and restore. When it snows, Mother Nature is way past asking us to quietly lower our voices and take our seats. She is telling us to sit down and shut up.
When I’ve walked as much as I wanted to walk, I turn around and head home. On my way back, I like to crisscross my tracks, revisiting the evidence that I existed and traversed these lands that day, at that time. Soon my marks will be gone, brushed away by the footsteps of others, stained yellow by a dog.
By then, some people have dribbled out of their houses, weary-looking people wearing parkas over sweatpants, standing back from their shovels to catch their breath and envy the guy on the corner who owns a snowblower. I raise a mitten as I pass. My cheeks are red, my upper lip is caked with snot, and I’ve got a thin layer of sweat between me and all my clothes, and an understanding that some days all there is to do, all you really should do, is go for a walk.
At home, I unlace my boots, letting the clumps of snow melt into puddles on the doormat, and put a small flame under the soup, which in a few minutes will be warm and ready. Sure, there were things I could’ve caught up on—an infinite quantity of unanswered e-mails, a basket of dirty lasundry, a cluttered, disorganized basement. But if this really is the snowpocalypse, would you want it all to end while you were catching up on paperwork? •