First Snow


I knew the snow had started when I realized it was quiet.

Snow in North Carolina is an unusual thing, both in frequency and because of the general public response to it. East of the mountains, which  are another beast entirely, we get a snowfall or two in a typical year, somewhere between January and March. More often than not, they are ephemeral, arriving in secret by night and melting away over the next series of mornings with little fanfare. But these usual non-events trigger an apocalyptic panic.

“Get your bread and milk now,” everyone will say with a wry smile when snow is in the forecast. It’s a tired joke, dry and self-deprecating. Even after you say it to a coworker with a roll of your eyes, you still make a note to drop by the grocery store on the way home.

The snow has been in the forefront of all minds since Monday, but especially so today. The county dismissed public schools two hours early, even though the snow wasn’t likely to start until seven or so. At work, we sent the kids home from camp early, too. On my way home, the roads were quiet, smudged white with rock salt.

By the time I got home, there was nothing for me to do but wait. I made dinner. The drizzle started. I curled up with a blanket and a book. I kept pulling back the blinds and peeking out the window as the time crept later, to no avail. The rain got harder, and I could tell by the sound of it that there would be no need for me to scout out the yard again for a while. I kept on as I was, cocooned in the soft noise of my fidgeting, rustling, and page-turning.

In my own quiet, domestic noise, I missed it. I stopped my own motions for a moment and heard nothing. I knew, then, that it was finally here.

First snow of the winter, first snow of the year.

I dragged my comfy desk chair out onto the balcony, wrapped myself in a coat and all manner of extra-fuzzy knit things, and came to sit in it. It seems silly to think that the entirety of North Carolina is in a state of emergency right now when these gentle, floating puffs of snow make the world seem so calm. The snowfall is lighter even than a spring drizzle, drumming up a hushed patter while it blankets the ground. It muffles everything–even though I am close to the highway, which is undoubtedly still being used, I cannot hear it. It’s nice for everything to be quiet, and everyone to be tucked away, at rest.

I am watching the snow collect on the sweet gum tree out front. It’s piling onto the more stubborn gum balls, capping them with little hats. Weighing down the boughs with nature’s tree ornaments.

Seeing the smooth white layer thickening on the ground, I am suddenly reminded that in the Lakota tradition, the first snow of the winter marks the beginning of the new year. Tomorrow I will get up early and go hunting for fresh tracks in the snow; tomorrow will be cluttered with people crawling at a snail’s pace to work and snow plows carving out paths.

Tonight, though, is just what we need. A little peace, a little quiet. A fresh, new page. A blank canvas.

A new year.




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