When I was a child I was eager for the first snowfall to come. Snow for me was a powdery potion that worked magic in the world, transforming the landscape into something utterly foreign, barren and blank, onto which I could imprint my imagination in ways not possible in any other season. I can remember the hitch of excitement that stopped my breath, brought a squint to my eyes on the first day, usually late in November, when I strained to confirm what I thought I saw: that first tentative flake drifting in stillness to the brown earth.
With snow came all sorts of opportunities for adventure. Just walking the quiet streets of my neighborhood, now white canyons, deep and narrow, could become an expedition to map the maze of drives and walkways heaved out by grown-ups just trying to make their way. My friends and I tunneled out forts in the mammoth banks at road corners, careened down Tommy’s hill on toboggans, made snowmen and angels in the white fluffy joy.
Winter brought ice skating too, the shoveling of a patch of smooth ice on Houghton’s pond and, later, tramping out an ice rink in the snow in our backyard. As soon as the snow was deep enough, and the season far enough along to have consistent freezes, we’d build the rink. My father would lead, stomping down in small steps a perimeter, my sister and I trailing in a column, round and round, packing the snow hard until we had the base. It fell to my dad to go out into the frigid night air, four times before midnight, each night, to sheen over that base so that when day came we would have a shimmering, smooth mirror on which to skate.
Now, fifty years on, winter has a different affect. For many it is something between a nuisance and a hardship. Snow and ice are no longer playmates, but enemies to toil against. My parents and a growing number of friends winter in the south now; my sister longs for the day when she will be able to escape the ice and snow, the cold and gray.
Winter has changed for me too. I still anticipate the first snow, but less for the thrill it promises than for the peace it delivers. Its magic, I now see, is grace working into the world, into me, to settle and secure, to give a few weeks of respite from the demands of life lived large in the other seasons. In winter I feel no guilt in wrapping up in the shawl my mother knitted me and sitting all day by the fire reading poetry, and not the news. I am inclined to my bed earlier, and go happily not wondering what I might miss, and I rise earlier too to witness the most magnificent sunrises that only the crisp, clear winter sky can deliver. I no longer skate much and rarely sled, but I still play in the snow, walking through it in the woods on snowshoes or shoveling it in my driveway, which is not a toil for me, but a meditation. Perhaps that is what winter has become for me: a time of peace and replenishment, of thought. A time to rest.