Whether it comes in November, or December, or January, the first snowfall in New York City is always striking for how generally unprepared we are for its arrival - this despite the fact that we’ve probably been talking about it with our children since that last, wistful day at the beach. Snow is a little bit abstract that way where I live – like strip malls and bears – and this is probably as much a function of our latitude here (in Michigan, in Maine, snow is something to hunker down against, and generally survive, in Georgia a sign of the apocalypse) and probably owing a little also to whatever environmental degradation continues separating us from our not-so-distant past (some of those famous old photographs of people skating on the pond in Central Park were taken in 1913 - on September 23rd).
The urgency to get out there and attempt to fully capitalize upon something at once so inevitable and rare is only doubled when we do not receive a meteorological heads-up – and often we do not. Quick then: Mittens! Where the heck did I store the mittens? Under the bathing suits? The snorkeling equipment? They weren’t with the snow boots – I looked. I’m sorry your toes are smashed in there. Okay then, we’ll order size 12’s, but that’s not helping us right now, is it? Hurry, it’s turning into slush, we’re going to be sledding – we’re going to be waterboarding through slush – do you hear me? - if you don’t get moving and quit whining about your bloody boots! No - Ba-La-klava. Baklava is a Greek dessert. No, you cannot bring your blankie!
Or. Um. We could just stay inside and read a book. No, really, that’s what they do up in Maine! Because listen: there are many other ways to enjoy a snow storm besides launching yourself spread-eagled into a drift or getting nailed in the face with icy, arcing chunks.
Quiet. Can you hear it? The sounds of scraping shovels through your windows, and snow plows rushing to the scene (your scene!) because you live in a community, after all.
Such is the wonder of snow as it was interpreted (in 1947) by Alvin Tresselt’s and Roger Duvoisin’s White Snow, Bright Snow where postmen, policemen (and even some rabbits) spring dutifully into action. There’s poetry here between the accumulation - “softly, gently in the secret night” - and also the disappearance, winter yielding to spring, with its crocuses and inevitable robins. This may seem old-fashioned in its ambitions and perceptions of small town life, still it’s no less timeless for being predictable.
Then there’s snow as an object of optimism too: in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow, where an incurably confident little boy keeps hearing No – from haughty old ladies and the like. The illustrations in this book - of city landscapes and fanciful creatures apparently hatched from a child’s imagination - make this more beautiful than Crockett Johnson’s classic, but in some ways this is like The Carrot Seed delivering from the sky. Everything else is discouragement, “but snowflakes don’t listen to radio. Snowflakes don’t watch television. All snowflakes know is snow, snow and snow.”
And in Cynthia Rylant’s recollection – titled, also, Snow – which captures the ephemeral magic of a snowstorm, especially from behind the windows of a schoolhouse (or work) when - whatever our age, or disappointments - the world seems determined to change. Here is a picture of something worth running into and out of - for games and hot chocolate - and the girl in the story is depicted enjoying these deliveries with her grandmother, a not insignificant bonus:
“And the snow,
while it is here,
reminds us of this:
that nothing lasts forever
“And while the snow
this brief moment,
let us take a walk
and see how beautiful
the world is….”
Okay then, yes, you can bring your blankie, and those sneakers should work fine. For now. Hats please. We’re going for a walk to the bookstore.