The view of snow out of a second floor window into our backyard reminds me of other times, in other winters, I’ve stood at the same window and looked out on the same view. These linked memories seem to collapse time and heighten the present moment.
Yesterday I was the first adult home, and I dug out the driveway. This morning, I dug out a 600-word essay I wrote in mid-winter 2003 and tried to publish, in a local newspaper, in winter 2004. It seems fitting to publish it here today. Yes, it’s about snow, and something more.
This morning, snow again. The branches of the bare and mature Japanese maple outside the girls’ window is furred with snow, as if the snow had grown there. The lower-growing junipers in the back, planted like fence posts in a line by the neighbors on the border of their yard and ours, are top-heavy with snow, their heads bowed in awe of the maple.
I say out loud to Grace, “Oh, look at the beautiful snow!” Almost three and unstoppable, Grace jumps off the low bed she is dancing on, steps onto the blue stool at the window, and blurts, “Oh, I hungry for it.” Her instant desire, I know, may have more to do with getting the snow into her mouth than appreciating its beauty, but I am instantly touched by her word choice, so more deeply true than “I want to eat it.”
I love the snow and the cold. Especially the snow. Last winter there was none that accumulated, and in this house we wished daily for it, watching the sky out our kitchen window as if we could discern the signs of weather. We wished for freezing temperatures, too, a long string of sub-freezing days and nights.
In December last I bought a backyard skating rink kit, and Eli, Lydia, and I assembled it in the backyard on an afternoon cold enough for coats and gloves but not too cold that it would have been unwise to run the hose for several hours. The water started running into the 17 x 21 foot form in mid-afternoon, and even at 9 p.m. Jimmy and I were still checking the progress of the fill. Moon glow and a backyard light shimmered on the water, yet we could not see well and so had to put a finger in to check how far to the top edge of the frame the water had reached. By our bedtime it was full. We turned off the hose, disconnected and drained it, and coiled it away in the garage for the winter, its last watering task done.
A day here and a day there, temperatures dropped below freezing. Through January, February, and March 2002, however, there was no trio of days cold enough to freeze such a large quantity of water. Nevertheless I loved looking out at that still, shallow pool every morning as I filled the pot to make coffee. I noticed the stray leaf or two that had fluttered down and settled to the bottom, a dark rotting brown against the slippery vinyl white. Some mornings there was a crust of ice; leaves and broken twigs rested lightly on it. Those days gave us hope for even colder weather, for a giant puddle to blossom into a skating surface, for a frosted patch to fill with bright, whirling parkas and a flash of skate blade and the shrieks of the neighborhood children convening in our yard.
The hope for cold and ice — for extreme weather — was the only hope last winter. I also remember sitting on the wooden steps leading from our porch into the backyard a few months earlier, on September 11, 2001. It was a stunning and clear afternoon, and I remember peering at the blue sky, the Japanese maple leaves not yet ready to turn from dark green into their autumn flame, and these words bursting into my thoughts: “I will never be happy again.”
One season later my daily wish for a certain kind of atmospheric condition, and the ice it could bring, lifted me. Better it was, I think now, that a sustained freeze never arrived. There was so much potential in that silent, inexpertly made pool of water.
Picture above, of the view from the window at 8 a.m. today, is by me. Picture below, of the tangle of tree branches seen through the same window, is by Lydia.