First Snow

Resigned to our dreary Wisconsin November weather, I pulled on a coat and slowly walked down the driveway to the mailbox. After the wind roared in the tree tops a few days earlier, the yard seemed unusually quiet today. From somewhere in the flowering crab apple tree, a chickadee wheezed, “Chee-dee-dee.”

I thought, “Now that’s a wintery sound! I wonder when it’s going to start looking like winter?” The kid in me looked forward to the first snow of the year.  As an adult, I knew that snow made travel horrid. Looking up at the gray sky, I sighed, “But it is so pretty to watch as it slowly, lazily falls to the earth!”

From far off in the distance I heard a train rumbling through Marshfield. Surprised, I thought, “Hmm, the tracks in town are over six miles away. Sound is really carrying today.” In the back of my mind I remembered my brother once telling me how he noticed air carrying sound further than usual before snow storms. I shrugged, doubtful that any snow was on the way. Last year snow hadn’t come to stay until Christmas week.

At the mail box, I reached up to pull the door open to place letters inside. As I raised the red flag, my shoulder gave a twinge. Since getting up that morning, I’d noticed other achy joints. “What did I do yesterday that made me sore?” I wondered.

While driving into town I noticed the wind was out of the east. White plumes of smoke from chimneys at a factory drifted to the west and flags fluttered gently westward. “Wind out of the east means we could get some rain or snow.” I thought to myself. “I should have checked the weather when I was at the computer this morning.”

When I called my daughter that evening, she announced, “It’s snowed and rained on and off all day here in the Twin Cities. When did it start snowing in Wisconsin?”

“The clouds must be empty by the time they leave Saint Paul.” I replied. “It’s been cloudy here all day, but not a single drop of rain, nor a single flake of snow has fallen.”

An hour later one of my cats scratched at the back door. I opened it to let her in and discovered the deck covered by an inch of snow. By the yard light I could see heavy sheets continuing to fall. My achy joints, sounds carrying in the still air and the east wind were all signs of this first snow and I had ignored each one.

When I was in grade school the first snow of winter was the cause of great joy and celebration. I remember one snowy morning, I arrived at school and paused for a moment in the empty hallway before entering my fourth-grade classroom. There was a special feeling in the air. Joy and anticipation weren’t physical things. Yet I identified something I couldn’t put my finger on that made the day feel differently than ordinary.

Slush had been tracked into the building. Boots and coats spilled out of student closets. There was a rustling sound of hushed, excited whispering of children who anticipated playing in the snow or perhaps being let out of school early. In one classroom, a nun called out over the twittering of her students, “You’re all excited about the snow. Go stand at the windows for a while to watch it fall, but then we must get back to doing school work.”

As much as I have always loved seeing the first snow of winter, by the end of January I am deathly sick of it. Winter lasts far, far too long here. Spring is a sluggard, slow in arriving and poor at staying consistent once we’ve had our first warm day.

“Do you know what’s wrong with Wisconsin?” I once asked my daughter. Her quizzical expression prompted me to expound my theory. “We supposedly have four seasons, but we don’t actually. We have five. We have spring, summer, fall, winter and then a horrid time from February through the end of May that isn’t really winter, but no one recognizes it as spring, either. That time of year should be given a name, but so far the names I’ve considered haven’t been appropriate for tender ears.”

Although I know from experience that in a few months I will despise the snow and wish it all to melt quickly, right now I love this first snow. Each ruffled flake of exquisite perfection is a miracle of beauty. Icy and cold, it refrigerates the trees, grass and flowers, preserving, but not killing, another miracle. I stand at the window, in awe and filled with joy to watch the first snowfalls of winter.

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