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Winter Wonderland

I just moved back home to Boulder, Colorado, a week ago. It's been a while since I lived here, but as I remember it, every few years there comes a canonical fall of snow, the kind of snow that's exactly what one imagines snow is supposed to be the Platonic ideal of snow. Well, just last night the canonical snow made an appearance. As it was ending, I went out walking in it. I'd been writing a letter, and as I was thinking about how I'd describe the snow, I realized I ought to write an essay instead.

It was about ten o'clock at night, late enough to be fully dark; cold, well below freezing; and perfectly still. Snow was still falling gently, as clusters of snowflakes. On the ground, the snow was loosely packed, with individual snowflakes visible as they reflected the sodium light of the streetlights. Each snowflake was a thin plane of transparent ice, a variation on the basic six-pointed star.

The largest were perhaps a quarter inch across.

The reflected light from the various snowflakes made the ground sparkle as I moved. The sky was a blue-black overcast. Between the ground and sky were the trees, organized in small clusters. The black of the damp trunks and branches contrasted with the white of the snow that covered the branches, the covering often two or three times as deep as the branch was wide. At a distance, the covering of snow made the trees appear to be flowering; in the pink sodium light the flowers might well have been cherry blossoms.

Because the snow dampened sound, it was unnaturally quiet. When I walked, all I heard was the squeaking of the snow underfoot; when I stopped, it was so quiet I could hear my ears ring. Nobody else was out; it felt as if I'd been transported into a picture, as if I were an invisible observer, or a ghost. I walked in the road, where the snow had already been packed down; on the sidewalks and yards it was perhaps eight inches deep.

Under the streetlights without covers, where the light wasn't diffuse, I could see the shadows of the snowflakes as they fell.


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@ March (2001)