January 9, 2015
First published January 4, 2013
The first snow of the year brings a special sound out of my two daughters. It's a little like the sound they make when they get something unexpected a surprise scoop of ice cream, or a new bike. But snow on the ground, after a year without, induces a different sort of sound. You hear breath filling their lungs, and a long pause while it stays there.
I heard that sound recently, when we opened the blinds and beheld the season's first real deposit of snow. The ground, which had sat grey and brown and mealy green for months, was caked with a short, neat frosting.
We bundled the girls up and sent them out the front door. I watched through the window as they played in our front yard. There wasn't enough snow on the ground to do much with. They couldn't make a snowman, and their little hands were no good for making snowballs.
But they found another use for the white stuff. I watched them scoop snow into their mittens and lick the clumps of white in their palms.
When they came back inside, Ruby, my 3 and a half year old, said triumphantly, "I ated snow."
It sounds really hokey, I know, but I have to admit this: snow and I have always had a 'special' relationship. It's kind of like what some children feel toward a favorite stuffed animal, or toy.
I don't just like it because it's fun, although I am a fan of skiing, sledding, snowshoeing-- virtually any snow-based recreation. No, what sells me on snow is that it brings a kind of serenity to the world. It is the embodiment of a fresh start, giving a clean glaze to even the harshest of landscapes. If I ever feel lonely or sad, nothing can be as comforting as standing outside during a nighttime snowfall, taking refuge in its stony silence.
And so it gave me pleasure that morning to watch my children reveling in our front yard, eating up snow as if it were cotton candy dropped from the sky.
I'd done a lot of snow-eating when I was a kid. I loved how it quickly melted in your mouth, its feathery texture reduced to dense clumps of ice, and then water, in a matter of seconds.
Back in our yard, my daughters asked to walk the dog with me. They spent most of the walk dining on freshly fallen snow in our neighbors' yards. Anya, my six-year-old, wanted me to eat some of hers. But I am an adult now, and grown-ups don't eat snow.
I tried not to think about what was in the snow. I didn't want to ruin their good time. What good is life, after all, if you can't taste snow?
So, I let them eat away, with the caveat that they avoid yellow snow, or brown or grey snow. They seemed to understand that.
Rounding the block, Anya turned to me, offering me a mittenful of snow. There was so little in her palm it could have blown away. But there was no wind.
"Eat some snow, daddy," she said. I leaned over, and I ate the snow out of her mitten.
The snow tasted exactly the way it had when I was a child. It was light, and airy, and gone too soon.