We have just had a great snowfall, the kind that sweeps across great swathes of land and leaves itself behind. Fluffy clouds of snow piled up on fields and roads and cars, smothering the world with a gentle coating of white. When I was little, this meant that we would have off from school. A free day, without any sort of responsibility. Parents had to stay home from work, homework was pushed off, hot chocolate was made. The biggest storms could last for days, and felt like a gift from the gods.
Stories lurked inside these days. As a child, I built forts and castles from the snow. I went adventuring across the bleak ice plains, and fought snow monsters and dragons. (I never did manage a proper snowman.) When the snow fell in the evenings, I dreamed of being trapped inside a great country house, the kind where there was always a murder, and the mystery could only be solved if the murderer was one of us. When the snow fell, my imagination caught fire. In my own little world of snow and stillness, I could dream up any kind of story at all.
I feel very lucky to have been a child in the days before the digital revolution. Oh, it was in progress before I was born, but technology was still fairly rare for us common people. As a child, you didn’t have a computer or a cell phone unless you were rich. By the time I was in my teens, they were everywhere. I lived my youngest days in a state of disconnected innocence. When the snow came, school was out. There was no virtual space to live in. Just me and my parents and the adventures we dreamed up.
The world is very different now. Students and teachers don’t have snow days, but “virtual” days, where the learning continues no matter how deep the snow falls. Anyone in business is expected to be online and available, at the beck and call of the notification ping day or night. And no more is staying home a rare delight—we have been doing it since this eternal March began last year, and none of us are thrilled by it anymore. We all just want to get out.
But even so—when the snows came and fell last week, whispering through the night, and the drifts piled high and sweet—I felt the siren call of the snow day. I still had to work that day, and I still had responsibilities. But they all faded away when the snow came.
That day, I spent every free moment resting, reading short stories and jotting down notes for stories of my own. The advent of the snowstorm did not quite bring the world to a stop, as it might have in the past, but it did slow things down. I felt excused from my responsibilities. I knew that I could put them off for a day without judgement or consequence. My brain was as filled with snow as the yard outside my window. My brain drifted from one thought to the next, formlessly.
I didn’t get much done that day. Or the next, as our initial snow day turned into two, and then three. I went out seldom. I didn’t build snow castles or forts. And I still have not mastered the art of the snowman. I read more than anything else. I came back to poetry, and curled in my writing chair, I wrote strange, inscrutable things.
A good snowstorm, like a great fire, can cleanse the world. It is good that snow is not half as destructive as a fire. Around here, it only wipes the world clean for a few days, or a week at most, until the plows come and push it to the edges of the roads, where it grows into little mountains. Cold seizes up the lungs with a prickling bite. Our breath forms clouds within the air. There is no ash to stain the sky, only a cool, brilliant brightness. The sun melts the weight of snow away.
I like the sensation of being smothered by snows. Like the weighted blankets that have come into vogue, a snowstorm presses down on all my mental worries and allows me to release them. For the first time in months, I have been able to dream. The storm released me from the worries of the present, and allowed me to dream as a child does, once again.
It snowed for days last week, and yet again this week. Looking at the forecast, there is more snow coming. It is an inconvenience, to be sure. No fun to drive in. It comes day after day, to force us into stillness and keep us inside. It hides our worries away beneath a coating of white, for a few hours at least. The morning after a snowstorm is a pure kind of magic, the type of beauty that you only find in stories.
Eventually, the snows still stop. The sun will warm the sky and melt away this stillness. And when the world grows sticky with mud and blooming green, we will start again. Renewed.