An Early Snow in a Long Year

Snow.

Snow falling and swirling and sticking and coating the ground, the trees, the leaves.

Yes, the leaves.

The leaves are still here. It’s not their time to go yet.

They’re beautiful, these leaves. A perfect rainbow of greens, yellows, reds, and browns, varying from tree to tree and even branch to branch. Lush verdant deciduous holdouts along with evergreens, punctuating pumpkin orange, gilded flax, opulent burgundy, burnt sienna, and toasty brown canvases, with a smattering of gray, newly baring branches thrown in.

The depth of the hues, the strength of the crunch underfoot, the bright smell of the pine needles, all speak to the coziness and comfort of autumn.

And right now it’s all coated in snow. Bright white, fluffy, cold snow. A blanket of winter, foreshadowing what will soon be here to stay for a while.

But it’s not time yet.

The colors peek through.

I stop repeatedly to take pictures with my phone, trying to capture the sounds, the cold, the smell of wood burning, but there aren’t enough pixels to conjure on the screen what is aroused in my senses.

The excitement and rapid heart rate as we trudge down the path along the river, slipping and catching ourselves on the little hills, the brief stab of nervousness as a branch cracks somewhere overhead and my husband and I speed up our steps – this also doesn’t come through in the digital images.

Not even the colors come through.

The brightness. The persistence. The depth. The tone.

What shows on the thumbnail looks black and white. The camera won’t extract the complete information. The snow is dominant, unrelenting within the portrait.

I try different angles, different positions, different directions, different locations, managing to get a few shots where a hint of the pigments show through, though never coming anywhere close to what I see outside of the viewfinder.

And I think about the snow.

And the word snow.

When we “snow” someone, we’re duping them, fooling them, even betraying them.

I think of the snowflakes themselves, their intricacies, their points, their spikes.

And I think of the spikes on a virus.

And I think of a coronavirus, falling everywhere, blanketing the earth, hiding the colors, hiding the brightness.

I think of how it’s duping us, fooling us, betraying us, causing us to turn on one another, hiding our humanity from one another, leading us to think in black and white, us and them.

I’m a child of the northeast. I know snow.

And I love snow.

To love snow, you have to know it well. You have to know that its freshly fallen beauty belies its frigidity. You have to know how to dress to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. You have to know when you’re going to need to shovel, and when it’s going to melt. You have to know when it’s the right consistency to make a snowball or a snowman, a snow angel or a snow fort. You have to know how to slide down it on a sled or on skis or how to walk on top of it in snowshoes. You have to know when it needs to be raked off the edges of your roof so that your roof doesn’t collapse and so you don’t get ice dams. You have to know when it’s too deep to be safe to walk through and when it’s falling too hard to drive. You have to have shelter. And you have to have good boots.

You have to know, no matter how deep it piles up, or how dirty is gets along the road, that it will, without fail, give way to spring, to new leaves, to new life.

Snow is a disguise. A cloak.

A mask.

It covers the dirt. At first glance, it’s just pretty. The first coating obscures its power, its destructive potential.

It covers the still living leaves, making the branches hang heavy, threatening to break them all and managing to break some.

It weighs the leaves down, concealing the depth and intensity of their hues, knocking some of them to the ground weeks before they would have drifted down of their own accord.

But even though the pictures refuse to show it, we can see the colors as we walk through the woods. When we’re there, when we’re in it, we can see what’s there.

We have to stop and look. We have to place ourselves there. If we are not physically there, we have to extrapolate from the photos taken by others. The cameras cannot manifest the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the temperature, the emotions, or even the true colors, so we need to go further – allowing ourselves to enter the photographs with our souls, breathing the cold, crisp air in our minds.

We are still here. We are still beautiful. The youthful greens, the peaking yellows, oranges, and reds, the aging siennas and browns. The firs and the maples, the spruce and the oaks, the pines and the beeches and the ashes and the elms and the birches. The leaves and the colors and the depths and the branches of humanity.

With apologies for the triteness of my analogy, for now facemasks are our boots, physical distancing our shelter, and vaccines will be our jackets. They are how we will manage.

Our housemates, Zoom, Facebook, telephones, and neighbors and friends outside on the lawn are our skis and our sleds. They are how we will thrive.

More snow is coming. Know the snow. Know what’s under it – what’s hidden, what looks dead, is dormant, resting, waiting. Know how to manage the snow and how, as best as possible, to protect against its damage. Know how to thrive in it.

Grieve what the snow breaks that is not reparable.

And know, always, that the snow will melt, and that we will emerge in all our colorful splendor.

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