[First published in Broad Street Review, 26 Jan 2016. Reprinted by permission.]
You know that guy who loves the snow? That guy who loves telling people that he loves the snow? That he loves watching it, being in it, walking around in it, driving in it, shoveling it — that guy? Don’t you hate that guy?
I’m that guy.
I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I loved snow as a kid and have never outgrown it. On the flip side, I hated waking up in the morning when I was a kid, and I still hate it. Thirty years I had a 9 to 5 job, and even though I liked my job, every day I hated waking up for it. So that should make you feel better. But I did it and never complained. Okay, I complained a little.
There are three reasons I love the snow. Actually, there are only three reasons, ever, to love anything. The reasons are Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.
1. Snow is good
I’m not sure why it’s good, to tell you the truth, but I’m taking it on faith, since rain is good even though there are floods, corn is good even though there is succotash, and knowledge is good even though there are newscasts. Without earthquakes, for instance, without the tectonic plates burping a little here and there, the entire world would explode all at once — this is true — and the entire world would die, so at its very worst snow is better than that.
People die in the snow, I know; people die in earthquakes, and people die from watching the news, but all those things have good in them if you look hard enough.
Succotash, I’m still not sure about.
2. Snow is beautiful
Everyone agrees that snow is beautiful. Even the Inuit agree, I suppose, though they must call it “outside.” Snow is beautiful while it’s falling, and snow is beautiful after it falls. And in that I find a key to art.
You’ve seen the greeting-card illustration of Grandmother’s house at winter, cozy and inviting, nestled beneath proud pines topped with snow, a one-horse sleigh approaching over the smoothly undulating landscape to the homestead, whose puffing chimney and beckoning bright windows prophesy the joys of food and family, a perfectly constructed advertisement of goodness and beauty.
You mock that picture, don’t you? Or, in your weaker moments, you wish you could like it. But despair not. You’re not a snob.
You don’t like that picture because it isn’t true.
3. Snow is true
Snow is true; that picture isn’t. Snow melts, snow gets dirty, snow is in the way. It has to be shoveled. The picture doesn’t show that.
It doesn’t show the droop of the pine branch in that exquisite hour just before the snow melts. Art will show that; art will recall the evanescence of life, because art — if it is good — is true. Real snow has that quality. This is the heart of the matter. I love the snow because it’s true, and truth reveals truth.
Do you want to know what your neighbors are like? Snow will introduce you to them and give you an itemized list of their character. Which one waves? Which one clears the steps of the neighbor who’s on vacation so that the mailman can get through? Which one shovels your sidewalk because “it wasn’t that much more”? Which one complains?
Do you want to know what you’re like? Start shoveling, and you’ll learn. Where do you put the snow? Are you shoveling the same snow twice? When’s the last time you thought about your shoulders? Oh, and hello there, lumbar disc number 5, it’s been a while.
From romance to real life
If we want to get anything done in our life, we have to deal with the snow. Falling snow is romantic, but shoveling snow is fact. A fact isn’t heroic or special; we can be proud of our clean car and sidewalk, but look up and down the street. Everybody else’s is clean, too. Look at the plow drivers, who in four days will be collecting your trash as always. Look at the electric company folks fixing wires after the storm, as they do all year.
All this character-building sounds good, but we resist it because we’d rather build character on our own timetable, thank you. Snow, instead, does all that self-help for us. We don’t have to sign up for a class, we don’t have to buy a book. And yet we resist because, even though its benefits are clear, snow didn’t ask our permission first.
And that’s the best part. The best thing snow teaches us is that we are not in control. That galls at first but then liberates. Because it’s true.
I love the snow. But if that was the last storm for the year, that’d be kind of okay, too.
So, have you written a Snow Suite, yet?