The world is filling up with snow. Outside the windows, individual flakes are swirling. They start in one diagonal line and suddenly change direction into its opposite. Indeed as I write, they begin to be less single, distinct shapes and become a diaphanous white veil, faster, more wind-blown, a constantly changing beautiful spectacle, which, of course, I hate.
I assure myself that I am warm and dry with full pantry shelves, that such snow, unlike ice, presents no danger to the electrical grid, that I don’t have to go out and, if I did, I wouldn’t. What can I say? I had a bad experience in a storm in my formative years and I still bear the scars. Moreover, we haven’t had as much snow here as New England and the mid-west. Still I would be willing to send today’s downfall to Southern California where even the mountains are dry this year, or even to Sochi, just in case it’s needed.
No one is shovelling. No point. Not yet. The snow plows are rumoured to be working on the major highways. Then they’ll get to the roads and about midnight, they may get to the side streets. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard the bus go thundering up the hill in front of the house for a while. Usually, you can set your watch by them, two of them that do a quick loop down from the Old Mill Subway Station to the Humber streetcar loop, every 20 minutes. Almost as good as snow plows at clearing the road.
My earliest winter memories are of living in a farmhouse in the hills of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Windswept! It had poplar trees on two sides that registered the slightest zephyr and talked to me about it. In a winter storm, they shouted as did the windows where the wind hummed in and left little drifts of snow inside on the window ledges. The wood box would be crammed full and several pails of spring water standing on the pantry shelf, carried in by my father who would have had to break the ice at the top of the spring. My mother was completely capable of keeping the stove going while he was away, pulping in the woods. That is cutting soft wood, trimming and hauling it back with the team of horses, to stack it in the long piles of pulp wood beside the road, work that snow and sleds made possible. There was no need to go to the store, what with the flour barrel, the potato bin, the canning cupboard filled with jars of berries and green beans and the deer meat hanging in the wood shed. Yet the house was full of terror.
What if… my mother wondered, when my father set out. What if, the place burned down? What if we needed the doctor? Etc. To each, my father responded with specific detailed solutions. The next farm was less than a mile away although out of sight. There was, of course, no telephone and no electricity. Anyway, he would be back in two days. Did she think he enjoyed freezing his ___ off in that camp? And John would look in when he came to milk the cows.
She would have been 22 then, a country girl, born and bred, but high-strung. When I was 22, I had just left residence at university and couldn’t have built a fire to save my life. She passed on her fearful nature and cold-hating physicality but not that practical skill.
I do remember one glorious day when it finally stopped snowing and freezing. The sun shone down on the glittering world. “Get on your snow suit,” she cried, joyfully. “We’ll go sliding on the crust.” And what a crust! Even she could walk on it without breaking through and it carried my sled, heavy laden with both of us all the way down to the bottom of the slope where the little brook lay frozen and buried.
Years later when I lived in the house under the hill (famous in this blog’s mythology), on a snow day, worse than today, school was cancelled. As teachers, my husband and I were off work and our small children were home. Curiously, our housekeeper had made it in and was busy in the kitchen. I was sitting at the table in the family room, close to the blazing fireplace, marking essays. I could see out the window to the high drift that lay there. Suddenly I saw the mailman step easily over the drifted-in wire fence and begin his progress over the side yard. “Stop,” I yelled, leaping to my feet. “Stop.” I started to pound on the window, but dropped my fists. And watched, dumbfounded. Slowly, he progressed through the heavy snow, one step after the other, mail bag banging at his hip. At each step. I prayed. He caught sight of me and smiled. Then he climbed over the fence at the other end. I collapsed in relief. He had just walked over our snow-covered, eight foot deep swimming pool.