by Walt Amses
Photo by Aron Vaught
Now that it’s January, I need to apologize. In the month leading up to the holidays I hoped for tons of snow, essentially “An old fashioned Vermont winter.” I’m sorry I didn’t clarify that by “old,” I hadn’t meant Ice-Age old, merely the kind of winter with snow that didn’t immediately enter the melt-freeze/rain-snow cycle that’s become familiar these past few years. Anyway, I’m not used to having my wishes granted, so it was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you when the snow that came by the dump-truckload was enhanced by a touch of Siberia.
Growing up way south of here—in Bayonne, New Jersey, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty—all the holiday hubbub including Santa himself was predicated on billowing, beautiful snow. Christmas cards depicted country homes with glowing, frosted windows buried in feet of glistening snow, inhabitants left to the imagination, but judging from the smoke emanating from the chimney, likely gathered around the hearth, eating home-made holiday cookies, drinking hot chocolate, and softly singing carols.
Evidently forgotten by Hallmark were inebriated fathers screaming obscenities while tangled in multicolored lights and balled-up metallic tinsel from the previous year, and December temperatures stuck in the 40s with the only available snow in cellophane packages from F. W. Woolworth Company, the original five and dime. The only natural snow we saw transitioned to gray slush within 24 hours of falling, clogging gutters and transforming intersections into ankle-deep, bone-chilling puddles of icy water.
Attending parochial school (until 10th grade, when I was expelled for rampant normalcy)was the source of myriad tortures including, unlike the public institutions, literally never having a snow day. It was something about if God wanted you to miss a day of school he’d send an angel to either break your legs or infect you with some flu-like illness, which the good sisters—a misnomer if there ever was one—called “the grippe.”
When the occasional Nor’easter developed without much advanced noticed in the days before weather satellites, my non-Catholic friends snuggled in their warm beds, while we soldiers in Christ’s army trudged through drifts in black rubber boots with metal buckles that went over our shoes. Designed to keep you dry rather than warm, they did neither, filling with snow almost immediately, which eventually encased our feet in slush. But most of these storms occurred well after the holidays.
Rarely, if ever, were our white Christmas prayers answered. Some of us (me anyway) kept hoping well into adulthood with pretty much the same results. Things began looking up 35 years ago when we fled the metro miasma, heading north on the thruway and landing in a place where holiday snow was more of a birthright than a remote possibility. It was here where I narrowed my meteorological focus to December 24 and 25: it had to be snowing heavily on those days and cold enough to keep it on the ground, sufficiently powdery to provide a dreamlike atmosphere for outdoor activities.
When my wish-granted ticket was finally punched this year, it became apparent that I should have been a little more meticulous in outlining my expectations. When cold enough to retain the snow morphed into cold enough to send brass monkeys into a frenzied exodus to Miami Beach and a dozen or so wild turkeys showed up with the chickadees at my bird feeders every morning, I realized my carelessly fabricated hankerings had upset the balance of nature.
Having forced myself to get out on snowshoes a few times these past weeks (as a kind of penance), I can safely say that the snow remains pristine and as fine as baby powder, although, the inability to flex my fingers or feel my feet was somewhat disconcerting. My facial expression was a mystery to me as well, perhaps incongruous with my mood, since I was no longer able to control any exposed flesh, which didn’t matter much since I was the only pedestrian for miles. I encountered only one vehicle while crossing a road. The driver asked: “Are you OK?”, but I knew he really meant: “Are you out of your bleeping mind?”
It seemed redundant. I’d been asking myself the same thing.