Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Softness of Snow

This is just down the street and around the corner from us, but we have the same mountain view, albeit over our neighbors' rooftops. We're fortunate, our side of the street is slightly higher so the view isn't completely blocked. The ridge is called Diamond Peak. It's beautiful in it's summer green, with a cloak of storm clouds, or crowned with the last light of the setting sun, but I think this is my favorite scene, when it looks like someone shook a bag of powder sugar over it.

Those geese are sprouting up all over. Maybe they'll plow them under in the spring. Snort.

What kind of animal left these tracks? You can compare the size to my boot print there on top. Too big to be a mouse. A raccoon would have tiny front paw prints as well, wouldn't it? A possum maybe? Or skunk? They led down into a ditch, under a fence, and ended at a tiny, steamy stream fed by underground hot springs.

We have a lot of tracks in and around our yard - people and animals. Deer, dog, cat, quail. Chihuahua tracks are tiny almond shaped dots all in a line. Cats leave larger, rounder prints. Buck leaves big old smeared tracks because his feet are so fuzzy. Deer tracks are easy to pick out. The junior high school is just a half block away, so every morning and afternoon herds of pre-adolescents trample the new sideways with tracks pointing first west and then east. Birds hop across the top crust so softly, the tiny fleur de lis shapes look more like shadows left behind than a real print. Once I came across cat prints so huge that they could only have been made by a mountain lion.

Everywhere I look the snow has transformed the ordinary into the picturesque. It diffuses light, blurring the edge of things until the world becomes an impressionist painting. Not only does it change how one sees things, it absorbs, buffers, mutes ordinary sounds, softening and reducing the noises we are so used to tuning out that we don't hear them except in the silence of their absence. Even the every day scents and smells of the world, good and bad, are bundled up and all that's left is the pinch of inhaled coldness or the fuzzy tickle of a scarf wrapped across your face. Ditto for touch, it's cold or separated by a layer of something warm and woolen. It's as if you are in the world and yet watching it from someplace outside the scene at the same time. Maybe that's why I feel so coccooned and undefined lately. All these soft shades of gray and white. It's like experiencing the world behind a lens, through a soft blue filter.

This afternoon I was looking out the window and the world was suddenly "different". A soft pastel something seemed to be floating across the snow. It wasn't a color, but it held the barest whisper of potential color. Puzzled, I stared at it for a long time before I realized what it was - it was LIGHT. Until that moment, I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd seen unfiltered sunlight. I continued to watch it in amazement as if it was a fairy dancing across the lawn. Like something magical, it quickly faded until with a last shimmer, it was gone.

It reminded me that snow beneath a crisp blue, cloudless sky is an entirely different scene than the out-of-focus, monochromatic storms now on stage. When the sun comes back in earnest, I know the edges of things will sharpen and shapes will again be clearly defined and separate. Maybe my thoughts will sharpen and clear then, too.

As I finished typing this, the weather forecast just flashed a 7-day forecast on the television screen in front of me. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. Snow. I guess we are going to be gifted with free Monet scenes for while longer.

Claude Monet. The Cart; Snow-Covered Road at Honfieur, with Saint-Simeon Farm. c.1867. Oil on canvas. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France


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