Like the calm feeling of a blanket being laid on your half sleeping body, the first snow comes with the tranquility of a long exhale.
It seldom has the uneasiness of a thunderstorm or tornado. Its precipitation does not pang or drop or flutter or twist, it simply falls. It spins. It lies.
The first snow has the serene release of fall, of leaves coming to the ground, but it is quiet. What’s left of it does not crack or rustle or crunch under our feet, it just molds to our steps.
For winters of an unknown amount of time, snow has unveiled the tracks of wild game while it has destroyed whatever is left of the crop. Today, snow is a friend to grade schoolers who need a day off and a pain for commuters who don’t need any more traffic.
But still, whether eight or 58 years old, that first snow brings a calm to us – a recognition of winter in a way that is tangible. The white layers of the pine trees give us memories of families and holidays or hardships and broken hearts. While snow quiets the world outside it brings noise to the indoors, forcing us together around a crackling fire or the sounds of wintry music.
A single snowflake weighs about .002 grams, while the average drop of water weighs about .0417 grams. In other words, one single drop of water can explode into 20 snowflakes, all perfectly unique and yet perfectly symmetrical.
If falling at an average of five feet per second, each snowflake takes an approximate 33-minute journey from the clouds to earth. 33 minutes of rising and falling against the winds, spinning through the air, only to land on the tongue of a toddler or in the hair of an old woman or on the windshield of a police cruiser or in the coffee mug of a construction worker or on the eyelash of a white tailed deer guiding her young through the blistering cold reality of winter in the woods.
Snow, found everywhere from here to Mars, has been called graupel or pellets, powdery and fluffy, granular and sleet, wonderful and horrible. The legend of snow has grown since the days it reflected off the eyes of great elk and wild moose.
Some believe it to be pieces of the clouds falling when the angels dance with God. The ancient Shinto people fear the yuki-onna, or snow women, who are whispered about for their inhuman beauty, red-lipped and pale, luring women with a crying child and men with magnificence so ancient and flawless that it is simply irresistible.
It is on these days, during the first snow, when I imagine the yuki-onna waking me up with her warm arms wrapped around my waist. It is when this first snow falls that I both fear and wish for her red lips to find my neck, for her pale skin to lay across mine the way that first snow has layered the earth around me.
No longer is the winter coming. It is now here. The first snow turns dead trees alive, bringing contrast to the darkness that has surrounded us as fall disappeared for the shadows of winter. Now is our chance to embrace this first snow, to enjoy the padding of it’s wetness on our feet, to let the visions of our own breath remind us of who and what we are. It is this first snow that gives us an opportunity to marvel at the three million odd snowflakes it takes to make a snowman, to lay down in the broken clouds and spread our arms and legs out wide and wave them back and forth and pretend to be one of those angels dancing with God on the broken clouds and wonder, just for a moment, what that dance would be like.
For the ones who this will be my first winter without, and for those who I have lost and found again underneath the broken clouds.