Monday, March 11, 2013

Snow: The endless quest

One of the fondest memories I have is of sledding for the first time with my father, at the age of three or four, on some hill in St. Louis which was probably very small, but which seemed enormous and scary to me. Sitting in my dad’s lap, dressed well against the cold, we rushed down the mountain again and again.

And then we left. Headed west to the desert where the snow falls an inch or two for a few hours every 13 or 14 years. I was not to see snow until I started skiing, as a 12-year-old, heading down real mountains. But by then the fear and caution that accompanies adolescence had crept in. I didn’t want to fall, didn’t want to make a fool of myself. When I skied with my dad (who was also learning himself, in his mid-30s), the abandonment of fun was replaced by a desire to make him proud of me, which hindered my concentration, which made me fall. It was exhilaration mixed with frustration.

My encounter with snow had changed. It had become a skill I needed to master rather than a letting go to the rush.

My quest for snow and cold swept me further east, first to Boston to go to school, then Chicago. I remember one lovely night when I ended up walking from Boston Harbor to Brookline and my rent-controlled apartment in a slowly falling shake of a storm that would yield about 10 inches over a long period of time, the city getting darker and strangely lighter at the same time. I walked along Commonwealth Avenue, pretending I was in a past century, where gas lamps illuminated the glow of the snow and a guy with mutton chops and a top hat would come whisking by me at any minute. What he might say to me, this hunched over dyke in jeans and Gore-Tex, never occurred to me. In my fantasy, I was just another bloke like him.

Chicago has been a disappointment in the snow department. I remember some big storms, and it seemed to snow regularly in the years I first moved here. But I might have been too busy to notice. Plus, it’s flat. Going skiing is an effort. My partner was unequivocally not interested, and I couldn’t justify the expense or step out and go alone. But damn, those discount flyers for Jackson Hole from 15 years ago still sit on my bookcase.

I took my kids sledding when they were three. They hated it. Dixon humored me and kept going down because I was excited. Delaney, who has had issues with motion since she was a baby, simply refused. And now, when it does snow, my hours are filled with shoveling and salting and making sure everything is taken care of and everyone is dressed properly and (if we can convince Delaney) the sleds are packed as we head to the little hill by our house. I am now the caretaker, trying to give my kids the opportunities for exhilaration that I missed in the desert. Opportunities that they seem highly ambivalent about.

In the south suburbs of Chicago, we don’t get as much snow as those people north and west of us. Last year it barely snowed at all. Our sleds stayed put. This year December went by and I’m not even sure it got down to freezing. January had a few cold days, punctuated with even more in the 40s. We tried, mid-February, to eke out a sledding run from the two inches of snow we had gotten. The grass on the hill shown through, like a man in white face paint badly in need of a shave. It was pathetic. But it was all we had.

Finally, a few storms in a row at the end of February piled the snow up a few inches. And then last week, on March 5, eight inches fell and I was outside for most of it. My 10-year-old and I made a snowman, and she taught me how to roll the snow rather than pack it. But our fun was punctuated by me trying to snow blow, which I had to do twice as the snow was coming down that hard. It was pleasure and work, though the work in the snow was pretty pleasureful. Our snowman had a carrot nose and a cantaloupe mouth. Dixon got two of her best buttons for eyes. I found an old favorite hat. And we took some knit gloves that we don’t use anymore and fitted them on stick arms. We spent hours outside, romping in the snow, looking for the proper sticks, rolling, shoveling. Laughing. Then we took a picture.

Because in the end, posterity is all we have.

A week later it is 47 degrees and raining. I just picked up my hat, unhanded the gloves from the sticks, and washed the buttons and put them back in the sewing box. There are clumps of snow dotting my yard, like frozen dumplings on a bed of kale. Spring is here, or coming – either way, there is no more snow for this year. I find my self counting down the months till December, when I can hope again for a snowstorm and cold weather, proof that global warming hasn’t taken hold. My entire life has been a dream of snow. Why I never moved to Denver or Vermont I’ll never know. Perhaps I’ve been trying to recreate that memory of flying down the hill with my dad. Perhaps I will never fully succeed. But dammit, I’m looking at those Jackson Hole flyers and wondering if they will still be good in a year.

1 comment:

  1. I used to love it too... that was a good 25 years ago. Since then the love affair has gone cold (pun very much intended) and I'd give anything to live in a consistantly warm climate!

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