Fake snow

February 24, 2023 Comments Off on Fake snow

Growing up in Houston, it snowed twice. Tiny flurries, half-an-inch on the ground, just enough to make a mud snowman. It was amazing. Some of the very best memories of my childhood happened in a few hours. Our dog Fletcher discovering snow. Snowmudball fights for the better part of an entire day, later degenerating simply into fights.

After that first snow in the winter of ’72-’73 I lay awake every cold winter night, hoping against hope for snow. Sometimes I’d wake up and see the white ground bathed in moonlight. “It snowed! It snowed!” I’d tell myself, hoping against hope. But as they say, hope is not a plan.

Snow meant more than missing school, which was incredibly meaningful for someone who never did his homework. It also meant that everything changed. Houston’s semi-sub-sorta tropical climate became a winter wonderland, or at least a winter mildly credible land.

I’ve often wondered why those two snows were such a big deal. Today I think I cracked the code.

Up here in the low Sierras it snows every year, though global warming has greatly diminished frequency and quantity. We’re at 3,000 feet, but the backyard goes up to about 6,500, and across the way, over the river and up into the Domeland Wilderness the peaks strike out at 8,000-9,000 feet. That’s still lowdown compared to many places, but you’re most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

The snow pattern here at the cabin is heavy snow up top and a couple of inches down below, where it melts the same day. As I write this, yesterday’s snow, mostly melted, got covered with last night’s snow, mostly melted, which is now getting repaved with this afternoon’s snow. For this low down it’s a lot of snow. Suddenly outdoors seems a lot less inviting than in.

People who live where it really snows might consider this a late spring dusting, if that, although the seven feet or so about to be dumped up higher would get your attention pretty much anywhere. But the snow snobs still wouldn’t consider this anything. How can it be snow if you don’t need a plow, salt, chains, and a survival kit in case you don’t make it from the front door to the car?

I get it, but fuck off anyway. We used to be heat-humidity snobs in Houston. People would touch down in March and choke on the heat as their hair flopped straight down as if magically treated with motor oil. “This? This ain’t nothin’,” we’d say. And we were right. March is to July in Houston as September is to February in North Dakota.

In other words, our little fake snowstorm here wouldn’t cause a Mainer to even consider gloves, but for us it’s show-stopping. The shelves are bare. People are afraid to drive. Fireplaces that haven’t seen action since Ma was a teenager are roaring with well-seasoned walnut and oak. Me? I’m curled up next to Snykes enjoying a hot cup of tea as winter swirls outside. It’s cozy in here, beautiful out there.

I took Snykes outside for his first taste of snow. He was ambivalent. When he came inside after less than a minute he looked at me like, “Call me when you get some warm snow.”

On the other hand, we’ve taken a couple of walks, and once out in it, he’s fine. It’s easier on his torn footpad than asphalt or dirt. Plus, he got to see a big fat coyote that had come down due to the snow. Snykes pointed, then strained at the leash. “Snykes,” I said. “If you had trouble with a raccoon, that coyote might tear off more than part of your paw.” He growled to make his point, peed on a bush, and we headed back.

I threw out extra rations for the birds. The snow has brought them in droves, along with fellows who never come to the feeders: chipping sparrows, fox sparrows, and California towhees are hungry enough to stand beak-to-wing with the quail, doves, white-crowned sparrows, jays, spotted towhees, and the innumerable juncoes. Even the acorn woodpeckers aren’t too proud to get on the ground and peck for seeds.

The four Anna’s hummingbirds were miffed at the snow covering their feeder, but it thawed and they were able to get back to the usual business of fighting over food supplies that were enough for ten families.

It’s by looking at all the usual friends covered in snow, the trees, dirt, rocks, roofs, streets, and steps, that I cracked the code. Snow for us hotlanders transforms. Boring old water, which is scarce even in good years, becomes powdery, white, and cold at first, virgin pure, and quickly turns muddy, mucky. Everything changes in an instant and then changes again.

When I was a kid I thirsted after that change. I hungered for that moment when the world shifts shape overnight, when the thing I saw yesterday was no longer the thing I see today.

I still do.


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