Snowflakes falling always capture my imagination. Their whiteness or their fluttering motion or their unhurried pace toward the ground or their silence…I don’t know what it is, but I know that they capture my imagination. If I watch them from the window as they drift down to meld into the snow on the ground, or if I drive through them and see them explode on my windshield, or if I walk among them and feel them instantly melt against my cheek…snowflakes falling hypnotize me.
It is true. My memories are stronger when they are dressed in snowflakes. I remember days even in my youngest years when they include snowflakes falling…more than 50 years ago when I was younger than 10 and walking through the forest behind my boyhood home, I noticed how the pine trees formed caverns beneath their snow-covered branches; on all fours I shimmied into a cavern and, seated on pine needles, “watched the woods fill up with snow,” as Robert Frost says. Snow fell fast, “flakes” of snow that seemed more like cotton balls, and the snow was already deep outside the cavern. Night had fallen, but the brightness of the snow made everything visible; I remember watching my brother and sister pass by my hideout, their feet crunching the snow, their voices dampened by the snow, and a soft hiss of constant snowflakes falling on the piling snow.
I remember waking one morning 40 years ago while on a solo backpack trip to hear the tap of snowflakes on the tent…opening the flaps, I found the ground white with snow and the flakes falling fast. My shivering hampered my campfire-building efforts, because I had jumped out of the tent to start the fire quickly before the snowfall covered everything. Soon, I was warmed by flames, oatmeal, and a cup of thin coffee while being constantly pelted by snowflakes, snowflakes that disappeared above the flames or were diverted by the flow of the hot air rising.
I remember 20-some years ago a night when I pulled my son on his sled through snow-covered streets; we were bundled against the cold and falling snowflakes, but we were cold notwithstanding. The snowfall was heavy enough to halt all traffic through the neighborhood, except for a front-end loader plowing the parking lot at the train station. We watched with equal fascination as the plow plowed mountains of snow, only to watch the ground go white again in minutes. The plowman waved to us from his cab and my son said, “I’m having great fun, dad.”
I remember 10 years ago on my hasty visit to Prague, how I toured the city in a constant halo of flurries. They never came fast enough to cover the ground with anything more than snow-swirls along curbs and around my ankles, or tiny drifts in picturesque nooks. I was surprised to see the reflection of my bundled self in the window of the marionette museum…in my hat and scarf and coat, I looked like the cold marionettes in their elaborate costumes behind the glass, except that I was dusted in snow. I realized how being among snowflakes gives me that unreal sense of being alone in a dream: sounds are deadened, shapes are softened, colors are blanked, place and time and distance are enclosed around me.
Then in 2011, Kate Bush released her album, 50 Words for Snow and I was mesmerized by her song, “Snowflake.” In the melodic, repetitive music, she expresses the dreamlike sense of a drifting snowflake riding its way through the sky earthward; the choirboy vocals of her son, Albert, give a tone of altitude and lightness; and the lyrics question every element of snowflakes that hypnotize me: being lost in silence in graceful motion outside time…only to find oneself “here.”
I found this exact sense, again, this weekend; while it snowed outside my window, I read The Snow Child, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2013, by Eowyn Ivey. It is a kind of a modern fairy tale that takes place in Alaska, where snow, obviously, is central to the tale. I found the same dreamlike sense of snowflakes, the same immediacy of them:
The swirl overhead was dizzying, and she began to spin slowly in place. The snowflakes landed on her cheeks and eyelids, wet her skin. Then she stopped and watched the snow settle on the arms of her coat. For a moment she studied the pattern of a single starry flake before it melted into the wool. Here, and then gone.
I think that I have found this to be true: snowflakes falling capture our imaginations.