Matt Dickerson: A medititation on snow
Kids love to play. It’s natural. Put a kid next to a puddle, with or without mud boots, and you have an entertainment system that rivals the most expensive video game console. A pile of fresh snow on the ground is even better. It can make kids of us all. It can also make photographers of us all.
I was aware of this last week after fresh snow in Vermont prompted my wife and I each to cancel an early morning meeting and head up to Ripton for a quick ski in lovely conditions. It was a delight just to be outside gliding beneath trees still shedding a fresh layer of powder with each puff of breeze.
I was aware of this again at the start of this week as videos and photos from Washington, Baltimore and New York made their way along the Internet to my computer.
While freezing rain slicked down Addison County roads, and quickly made our thin layer of snow cover old and sloppy (and even thinner), I read with fascination (and even envy) about the abundance of snow that recently fell (and fell and fell) along the mid-Atlantic. Reports out of West Virginia are that Winter Storm Jonas dumped nearly three feet of snow. In a New York City borough, the snowfall fell only one-tenth of an inch short of the all-time record from nearly a century and a half that the city has kept such records. Snow fell from the edge of Florida all the way up to Rhode Island where our son and daughter-in-law had a rare opportunity to go out cross-country skiing on the local bike paths.
Of course the storm shut down not only all the airports up and down the coasts for several days — two and a half feet of snow fell at JFK — but it shut down entire cities. Pretty much all of them, in fact. There was a ban on non-emergency driving in many places. Federal offices in D.C. were closed even into Tuesday.
Of course our modern media has had a field day hyper-sensationalizing an event which is, admittedly, at least somewhat sensational to begin with. Both the good and the bad have been sensationalized. Personal responses have also been quite varied.
Big snowstorms can cause lots of problems. The death toll from this storm is already over three dozen and is likely to rise. Several people perished while shoveling. Others asphyxiated from carbon monoxide poison trying to keep warm in cars whose tailpipes were covered by snow. And between lost workdays, cleanup costs, and damage to buildings from the weight of snow, the economic cost has already been estimated to be over a billion dollars. It is also certain to rise. I don’t take any of this lightly.
And yet the snow has also filled entire communities with a sense of overwhelming playfulness that seems increasing rarer these days, even as it blanketed countrysides and cityscapes alike with scenes of stunning beauty. I saw videos of people skiing through city streets on tow-ropes behind cars, cross-country skiing in city parks, having neighborhood-wide snowball fights, and building no end of snowmen, snow creatures, and snow forts in places where such things don’t often appear. Or just enjoying a day off with no illusion that there was anyplace else they could or should be. Even as dirty streets were made temporarily new, fresh and white, the daily drudgery of routine was replaced for a time with a wonderful, playful delight. Some people might even have gone several consecutive hours without listening to or partaking in a single argument about politics.
A friend of mine and I often like to remind each other that snow, fresh mulch and love all have a lot in common. A first century Jewish fisherman-turned-religious-teacher named Simon once gave the following command: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Fishermen often speak wisdom, and the words of Simon are no exception. The idea that “love covers a multitude of sins” has a rich variety of meanings. Which is to say, there are a variety of ways in which these words are true. Not only are we less likely to behave badly toward people when we really love them, but when others whom we love behave badly toward us, we are better able to forgive them; we don’t hold grudges, or respond to another’s bad behavior with bad behavior of our own. When love is shown, sins don’t escalate into bigger issues. Love can take barren, brown, muddy soil and dreary landscapes and blanket them with beauty. It can replace sorrow with joy and delight.
Which, of course, is just what snow does. At least for a little while.