This piece was first published in the Caithness Courier with photos from the editor, Elizabeth-Anne McKay.
Snow is rare here, especially the soft, lightly
falling damp flakes that pile gently atop one another like the snow of my
childhood. And it is always the snow of my childhood that comes to my mind as they
fall slowly out of the pastel sky. Of course driving was treacherous and power
would be lost and cars would be stuck at intersections and without question or
complaint anyone and everyone nearby would pile out and push. Those episodes of
pushing cars out of snow drifts come to mind now not as effortful but with the
vague wonder that we shared as we trudged back to our own individual cars
alone—why can’t we behave like that as if every day were a snow day. But it
isn’t. And that is what makes each of them a wonder as individual as the
I know as certainly as I know that you can’t make a
good snowball with mittens that the flakes are not actually exactly completely
unique, but each is unique enough for me to continue to watch snow with that
metaphor firmly fixed in my mind. I accept science without compromising my
faith. Snowflakes, like people, never experience exactly the same things in the
same way. Even if two snowflakes look alike to the rational, discerning eye of
a physicist, I believe that their inner selves bear the traces of their
individual experiences just as we all do.
When I remember the last snowfall before I left the
prairies for the place where the sea determines the weather, I no longer feel
the anguish of my brother faithfully but erratically coming to my rescue. He
still remembered that he had to look after me and had the strength and will to
maneuver a snow shovel adroitly, but he had lost his spatial sense by then.
When he ploughed into the centre of the road, shovel firmly in hand, one or the
other of us would bring him back. Now that he has gone as completely as that
snow, I remember all the snow times before that, such as the first time he
showed me how to make a snow angel.
It takes more than a few inches of snow to make a
proper snow angel, and it works best if the snow is pristine, not too cold or
too wet. Good snowball-making snow will work but only if the snow is fresh. I
cannot count the number of times I flopped, face up to the sky in the
fresh-fallen snow to leave my impression there. It would often take several
attempts to get the arms, working like windshield wipers, to make a good effect
to create wings. Only now does it occur to me that all those times I was making
impressions in the snow, the snow was making impressions on me as well.
I don’t remember getting cold in the snow, but I
remember how wonderful it felt to get warm again afterwards: the almost painful
tingling of snow-chilled skin in a hot bath slowly coming back into its own,
and then hurrying into thick pajamas with feet attached and sliding into bed
before I lost that superheated temperature.
Just as I can’t recall the way playing in the snow
chilled me, I can no longer recall the pain of a snowball aimed at my face. In
the ethics of snow fights, it was considered poor form to aim at someone’s
face. Ill grace and poor aim were made allowances for, but I was a target for
such abuse when I tried to play with the boys. As every tomboy then and now
well knows, you have to earn the right to play with the boys. After I don’t
know how many snowballs in my face, I earned their respect and the right to play
with them. Having won, however, I discovered that the prize had not been worth
the effort. I still persist in taking snowballs in the face—often more than is
reasonable-- if I think the prize might be worth it.