It is snowing tonight.
I bundled myself up to take Strider for his pre-bedtime walk. Hat, thick gloves, winter jacket, boots. As we made our usual lap of the parking lot, I found myself lingering. Illuminated by the parking lot lights, perfect snow drifted down and my thoughts began also to drift. Back to magical winters not so long ago, winters much like this one has been.
First the sight of pristine snow: a blanket of beauty unmarred as yet by footprints or sled tracks. Snow upon falling snow, until the plow piles were mountains to be scaled by the intrepid among us. And we were all brave enough to climb to the top and sled down. Even the plow piles were big enough to be sledding hills. But better were the hills of our own back yard, where so many orange sleds were sacrificed to sled-Olympics. We created our own events and it seemed like half the neighborhood would join us. Sled Jump. Freestyle Trick Sledding. Sled Racing. Sled Moguls down the landscape steps. We had at least 4 or 5 sled runs in our yard alone, not to mention the ultimate sledding at Daredevil, a bigger hill in the woods behind the house.
There was another kind of sledding, too. Dad had snowmobiles and would take us out into the woods and to the “bowls.” I did eventually learn to drive the snowmobiles, but most often I would ride along with Dad. Flying along through an unspoiled white world, the only sounds the strange, rhythmic growl of the engines and the sounds of snow, crunching, squeaking, and sliding beneath the tracks. The headlights of the three machines, my brothers each on their own and me with Dad, lit the way before us as we flew over hills and banked through snowdrifts. Sometimes I was sure we would not fit between those two trees, but somehow we always did. If we got stuck in a snowbank, Dad got us unstuck. To my young eyes he seemed so strong; just by hauling up one on of the snowmobile’s skis, he could pull us out of a snowbank. Somehow our time snowmobiling always seemed so special. Probably just because it was time with Dad.
We built snowmen, of course, and made snow angels. It always frustrated me that I couldn’t get up from the snow angel without destroying it by stepping in it. I still have yet to manage the perfect snow angel. We had cross-country skis, and it amazed me that I could get so sweaty when it was so cold out. We had the sleds, and snowmobiles, and snowball fights. We pulled icicles off of the roof, and yes, sometimes we sucked on them. We ate snow too. My brothers gave me “face-washes.” I don’t remember if I ever managed to exact revenge on them. We dug snow forts that seemed huge and amazing, or made snow tunnels on the picnic table that were smaller but no less amazing. And all of this I loved.
But my favorite snowy moments were quiet ones. After we’d tired ourselves out with play, and it was drawing close to time to go in. I would lie in my sled in the middle of the back yard. It often seemed like hours, though I’m sure it could never have been so long, simply watching the snow fall and dreaming. Imagining. Wondering. It was perfect snow, fluffy and big. Light enough to dance on the slightest breath of air. Uncountable dancing flakes, illuminated by the flood light attached to the house. Bundled up in my snow suit, hat and mittens (I have always disliked scarves), and warm winter boots with at least one pair of socks, I never felt cold. Not then. Not while drifting among those flakes. Bright stars loosed from the dark sky, given leave to escape their fixed courses for a time to experience the joy of freedom. Silver-white fairies danced to a strange music that could not be heard by the merely mortal. When there was enough wind, the snow transformed into the star-streaks of hyper-space (or warp speed, depending on whether Star Wars or Star Trek was more recently viewed), and my little orange sled was my starship, whisking me off to worlds unknown. At last, Mom would call us in. Sometimes it took me some time to hear, and draw myself back from wherever my fancy had taken me. There was always hot chocolate waiting, with mini-marshmallows to add.
Tonight, I was forced to call myself in. Unlike the days when the hope for a snow day was not an unattainable fancy, I now know that no matter the cold or snow tomorrow will still be a work-day and I have to get up extra-early. Despite this knowledge, I lingered in the snow. We walked three laps of the parking lot instead of one, leaving my clumpy boot-prints next to Strider’s big, perfect paw-prints. His coat was all-but encased in snow, easily fixed by a shake that sent those flakes flying back to rejoin their airborne siblings. I looked to the sky, watching the snow dancing in the light and feeling the gentle kiss of snowflakes on my cheeks. In that special silence of snow, in which the world recedes into a muffled distance, my thoughts turned to wonder, and dreams beckoned. Had I a sled to lie in, perhaps I would be out there still.