Getting reacquainted with the white stuff

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

I never dreamed we'd reach a point where I would stop taking snow for granted. Chalk up another unintended consequence to climate change. Snow, which hadn't settled on us for the better part of a year, has once again become enchanting. Waking to unexpected snow this past weekend waltzed me back to the wonder of childhood.

Snow is that soft ideal, godlike in its perfection, descending upon the world, momentarily obscuring the world's imperfections, which all too soon gain the upper hand, turning it much too quickly into a sloppy swamp of slush.

Over the years, I gradually stopped marveling at snow's unadulterated whiteness, its ability to profoundly transform the surrounding landscape, the way it accommodates itself to surfaces, chameleon-like in its conformity, miming the graceful swirl of tree branches and accentuating the determined regularity of clay tile roofs.

I have always loved snowing much more than having snowed. I am soothed by the peaceful aimless descent of flakes, the sudden sideways minuets, choreographed by capricious winds. But I learned to dislike living with snow. With each step we sully the stuff, subjecting it to the original sins of our man-made artificiality, turning it gray with soot, debris, polluting effluence. We tromp it down, compressing and converting it to tricky, treacherous, uneven ice.

In the country, whole fields and forests remain un-fouled by boot soles and rubber tires. There snow creates an alternate reality, not easily found in citified environs — with one exception: Scoville Park, fenced off for renovation, was reborn this past weekend as an unblemished snow reserve. No dogs pranced through this comfortable coverlet with puppy-like rejuvenation. No child sledded pathways down its gently sloping ridge. Squirrels may lightly jostle this un-mottled mantel, but it suffers no mammals more disruptive. Like some promised land, it tantalizes with the luster of mid-day, just beyond reach behind the awkward, hastily assembled, chain-link fence that frames and protects it.

Inside Red Hen across the street, a babbling toddler stands on the adjacent stool, pointing to the park, then turning to me, as if instructing. I understand perfectly. We're seeing with the same eyes. Her dad says, "That's the library, isn't it?" But I know it's not what she's focused on. Books come later. Right now she is absorbed by the wintry wonder of snow.

She has lived a lifetime without snow. Until recently, I didn't miss it one bit. Like a lover, I am well acquainted with how difficult it can be.

But while it is falling, all is forgiven. Utterly disinterested in where it settles, snow is gravity's greatest admirer. Every good snowfall surrenders to its irresistible magnetism.

Eskimos, I've been told, have names for 40 different kinds of snow, and so should we. There is lazy snow, snow that snarls traffic, picture-postcard snow, snow that completely shuts us down, snow that covers the grass but melts on pavement, snowman snow, good-packing snow, snow that sticks, snow that piles, snow that drifts, snow that stubbornly resists melting, snow that hangs around for months and obliterates all memory of the living earth, overnight snow that gives plows a head start on the morning commute, snow that forms large crystallized conglomerates as it descends, small-bore snow driven like blitzkrieg by an angry wind, snow that blinds.

Indiscriminate, snow plays no favorites, shuns no one and nothing. Snow is the ultimate disciple of democracy, proof that all men and women are coated equal.

I don't miss the logistical complications of snow, but I do miss the kind of winter that magnifies the ecstatic euphoria of spring. If climate change deprives us of that hard-earned payoff, I will miss even the slog that precedes it.

I savored the snow that visited us last weekend — just deep enough, covering what should be covered, leaving clear what needs to be clear, light enough for easy brushing and shoveling, the kind that glistens in the sunlight. Snow that alights and delights.

The kind of snow you just can't take for granted.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

2 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

The plain truth from equality  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 9:05 PM

Only people who hate the Black children are against this great project. If you do not want to support our poor Black children ... move out of Oak Park.

Brent from Oak Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 8:25 PM

I always knew you were a snow man Ken!

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