The year’s first snow

Snow storm on our nearby mountain, Moylussa



The Gap Road in the Clare Hills

AS I write this, the winter’s first snow is falling from a darkling evening sky, strangely haunting in the pale light from my window. And the brief beauty of it is working its magic on me once again.

Snow is like a bad marriage. It starts with gentleness and softness and grace and purity and loveliness. Yet all too soon it turns to ugliness, coldness, slipperiness, harshness, frustration and impatient longing for it all just to end.

Yet year after year snow works its early charm, long enshrined in Breughel’s paintings and Dickens’s Pickwick and Christmas Carol, as in so many of our Xmas cards and calendars.

Tonight has a rare kind of snowfall, for there is absolutely no wind. Thus the snow is coming down gently, quite vertically, with never a flurry. If it continues, morning will see a fairyland for, undisturbed by wind, each tiny twig in every tree will bear its slender burden of white. Leafless oaks and beeches will become transformed. And maybe, if we are very lucky indeed, this beauty will meet bright morning sunshine and a clear blue sky. Such a conjunction seems to take place only about once every 15 years but, if it does, for a few morning hours the land will be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa sightseer’s heaven. And a photographer’s too. Millions of branches, each topped with a narrow line of snow, seemingly balanced there with infinite care, will sparkle against a deep blue heaven, and the sun will drive through and light up the translucent clustered snowflakes like unearthly, unseasonal white blossom – the ‘midwinter spring’ that TS Eliot spoke of.

By noon the sun will have burnt the snow from off the twigs, or the breeze will have lifted  it away. Like all lovely things, this strange blossom blooms for but a brief time. Like the cherry blossom in spring beloved of the Japanese.

Snow is one of the few things that truly transforms our world, if only for a pitifully short time, and it transforms it for all the senses.

The world becomes quieter. Footfalls are muffled. The air smells richer, sharper – like wine. I remember when I was a kid how the bedroom glowed strangely bright when I wakened, and I knew there was snow even before I ran to the window. The world even feels different, with that incomparable crunch of new snow under your boots, and the exquisite pain of the first snowball between your fingers. And there is a sense that everyday things are no longer so important, indeed thing like school and work many even (hopefully) have to be foregone for a day or two.

As I grow older I am more and more tempted to see snow only as a nuisance, which it certainly can be, with its threat to driving, its sheer inconvenience, its disruption of everyday activities. But I hope I will never fully give in to that temptation, for everything has aspects of beauty and ugliness and I can choose which to see. If I choose the ugly, I am saying something about what has happened to myself.

Some years ago, on a university campus in Southern Illinois, I saw something that has made me appreciate snow just a little more., It was November, and the first snowflakes of the year were falling. A young woman, newly arrived on campus from central India, was standing with me, watching the falling flakes and shimmering  grass. She had never before seen snow.

Her eyes were wide. She stretched out her hand and caught a snowflake as it fell, and just gazed upon it as it melted into her palm,. Then she raised her eyes to the gray metallic sky, as if to discover where the flakes were starting from.

What I saw in that upturned face was sheer wonder, and it was a truly splendid thing to see.




~ David

Leave A Comment