Two words for snow: Swan Song


From jacket-free overexposure on Tuesday…


to thick wet rabbit tracking on Wednesday.

Two mornings ago I trudged through the front door, worn out and dripping. My hair, uncombed and restless from sleep, was tangled with snow, and the tips of my long underwear were damp from shaking the shrubs out back and standing too close. I beat away the cakey wet that had compressed itself against my plaid and polyester, sank into a chair, and stretched my calves along the footrest.

This house was loved by something like a thaw on Tuesday (though a thaw brings to mind the melting of things, and here there was nothing to melt). We went to Ponkapoag Bog a few miles away, traipsing the boardwalk between the White Atlantic Cedars and the slumbering roots of pitcher plants and sundews. It was, as I noted in my post that day, sixty-some degrees. My hands basked ungloved, fearless of chapped and cracked knuckles.

Now the shingles and eaves were covered in the white, insulating cold that was once synonymous with winter. It had been a heavy snowfall, only a few notches away from rain. Shoveling it set the aches of the growing season whispering in the small of my back, but  also filled me with the delight of a new snow. It was early, there were hardly any plows and barely any commuters, and my old neighborhood was brand new. The black power lines were white and the sidewalks, trimmed with dull and browning grass, were covered. After a fresh snowfall there is no dog poop, no beer bottles on the side of the road, not even any fissures in concrete. There’s just the sound of squirrels leaping from one branch to another and the gentle lyricism of truly wintry weather. This snow, still falling from the sky and also away from the branches and gutters it had accrued upon – melting already, somehow – met my ears with the timbres of tiny collisions. Water can either soften or sharpen a sound, and somehow this clumped and hard snow did both.

There is a wide vocabulary for snow. While the Inuit most certainly do not have 100 words for it, Kate Bush has fifty, like blackbird braille, swans-a-melting, hunter’s dream, and sleetspoot’n. This morning’s fall was somewhere between the sleetspoot’n and braille, and was etched by the claws of squirrels, the padded feet of cottontails, and the forgotten trail of a walker beside a loping dog.

I watched the squirrels doing tentative aerobatics along the icing on the fence, finished my work, and came inside.

* * *

Usually snow winds up being one of those things that I write and wax on about with no greater point, obsessing over the triumph with which a great blizzard fades out a landscape and musing over the Snowdens of yesteryear.

But this winter I have to say more, as the snow’s occasional visits only reinforce its absence. And while I know that snow isn’t going to disappear completely from Earth anytime soon, sometimes when it falls it sings like a swan. Despite the fact that Boston enjoyed its third snowiest winter two years ago, the year after we had our second least snowy winter. As for this year, if I’m counting properly this has only been our fourth snowfall this season, and that includes the skimpy one we had on Christmas day – the one that had nearly vanished by the time the ham emerged from the oven.

This isn’t just about Boston. In the continental US, 2012 was the hottest year on record, and internationally it was the 10th warmest. It was also the “36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the annual temperature was above the long-term average.” These headlines don’t exactly lend themselves to winter wonderlands. Where are the snows of yesteryear?

The statistics and workings of human-induced climate change are seen here in the micro. A friend witnessed the crocuses in her yard and the daffodils at the MFA sprouting up toward a warm, bleak sky. People have been wearing shorts. Last December irises were blooming in Boston. Climate change is happening. And it affects everyone and everything, including those of us in the metropolis. It doesn’t isolate itself around tiny, drowning islands or helpless polar bears. It’s changing our lives now and can only change them more drastically in the future.

In the words of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “cities must lead the way” when it comes to addressing climate change. So what is New York doing? What is Boston doing? What are we doing?

squirrel bright If you’re a grey squirrel, anyway, you’re running to the bird feeder, preparing to pillage.

PS: Did I mention that nearly all of the snow that just fell has already melted?

Thanks to weatherman Chris Lambert for helping me out with Boston’s snow totals.

6 responses

  1. Our snow melted very quickly as well. Love your capture of but a fleeting moment and your representation of an important issue.

    • Thank you!

      Ironically, a few days after this post we fell into a cold snap that began in a really lovely, fluffy snowfall. Though it’s hardly broken twenty degrees in the last week, the snow is all gone! So much for the cold keeping the ground white 😀 The snow was so airy – it must have all sublimated. Alas!

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