Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow Day: Jolting Back to Nature

**Flickr Creative Commons photo by Alex, in South Lansing, New York

The first lightness entered the air last night, the crystalline feeling of snow as it forms and sends its soft little arrows from the higher atmosphere.

It was near midnight, an inconvenient time to feel the giddy exhilaration of new snow, but I could sense it lifting me into 3 p.m. alertness and a rising joy. From the neighborhood came the sound of children calling out, making their snow greetings.

Since that moment last night, it has snowed steadily. More than 13 inches have fallen and it is 5 p.m. the next day. The air still swirls.

Lately I’ve been thinking about nature, about wanting it to seize the air around me. I read books about natural sciences, making plans to research and study animals larger than myself: orcas, humpback whales, bears. I wouldn’t mind running into a bear or the thin curiosity of a moose. Not to romanticize--because, probably I wouldn’t truly want to meet a Grizzly. But I’d like to take a break from the mental responsibility of being a major predator and maybe interacting with so many -- a megacity full -- of other predators. When I lived briefly in Missoula, MT, a neighbor who rode his bike and wore a hat that was a piece of art he had made, which looked like a screw through his head, said that he had lived in Brooklyn but returned to Montana because he needed to know that he was not beyond conquering. He wanted to see larger forms in the landscape, and not just human ones.

**Flickr Creative Commons photo by Pedrik

Snow is a relief in winter. It brings light to the landscape, and an incentive to step over large drifts, sink into them, think of taking up snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to skim over the land. I think all that lightness of feeling, all that activity, saves me from the slope toward S.A.D. that I feel in November and December and on short days.

In Yellowstone, where I worked from September to November 8 several years ago, snow fell nearly every day. The sky was nearly always either mulling over its plans to form snow, or dropping it. I’ll go so far as to say that, then, I got tired of snow. Herds of elk ranged over the snowy trails to my workplace in the mornings, raising their heads to look at me as I detoured around them.

Today after breakfast, I headed out past no elk, but beyond enormous plow trucks and through many drifted streets, toward the large park up the hill. Reaching the park via five blocks clogged with knee-high snow at the street edges was not easy. But I was able to walk in the car paths. Every so often, a bright shower of snow would shock into the air, tossed over some shoveler's shoulder.

No one was in the park. It resembled a place into which snow had been poured, a sandbox of snow with heaped edges. Bare trees stood starkly, on hills that sloped to the reservoir. I’ve been there on other snow days and seen the long stream of children and parents armed with plastic saucers and other sledding materials. But today the wind swirled, bits of snow bit at the air, and it wasn’t an encouraging environment for sledding.

Fog hovered over the reservoir, its surface bumpy like old glass or a place where ice was forming. From it came the sound of enthusiastic ducks a few feet from shore. It was a happy sound, birds proceeding easily amid the unpredictable changes of nature.

Backtracking home was easier than I had expected. Neighbors were clearing driveways and sidewalks. It was nice to look into the hooded faces of people, to see that they too were dazzled by the full force of a large snow having descended on us. Some of them seemed a little surprised by the streets filled with snow and the few cars that tried to motor awkwardly past and park.

It has been a good day of exhilaration, nature, and humility. Or, just nature.