The first snowfall of the winter

OK, so it’s not really the “first” since technically we had really light flurries in October. One could possibly even quibble that Thursday’s late afternoon dusting still doesn’t count, due to limited accumulation. Who cares? I’m counting it.  

I am usually OK with the first snow of the season. As a gardener, I know my bulbs, perennials and most of the trees are tuned into having a “winter” season, and warm winters tend to throw things out of kilter. (So for that matter, do cold winters). Snow helps both suppress all insect activity and keeps the ground from getting too cold, plus it stores moisture for spring. Thus, I have no problem with the concept of “snow.”  

From Flickr: CaptPiper photostream

From Flickr: CaptPiper photostream

However, in reality I like snow for other reasons. Snow, to me, is magical. It’s clearly irrational and improbable. It looks stupid, by the way, on a WordPress dashboard.  

My enchantment with snow may have to do with the fact that my early childhood seemed sans snow, at least in my memory. I was born in eastern Tennessee, where I suppose there probably was at least a little snow now and then, but before my fourth birthday, we had moved—first to New York, but then to California. So, all of my weather memories through second grade are West Coast memories.  

Snow figures in only one of them. I don’t remember exactly when we lived in apartments, but I do know that for a while in California, we did, and I recall one time that someone in the apartment complex had gone to the mountains on a skiing trip and their car, when they came back, still had a few remnants of snow on the bumpers, which my sisters, being more snow savvy than I, fashioned into a tiny snow person.  

We moved to Iowa in 1966 just before my 8th birthday. The winter of 1966-1967 was my introduction to snow. The first snow fall was awe inspiring.  

My father, recognizing that I was a West Coast boy with no memory of snow, woke me one morning to tell me it had snowed. I looked out the window of my bedroom, which was on the first floor of a rental house on Third Avenue South in Clinton, Iowa, and couldn’t articulate my feelings. It looked so freaky weird. Didn’t need LSD to trip in the 60s, snow (the literal snow, all you druggies out there calm down) was enough.  

One point about that first snowfall totally surprised me. I knew snow only from watching it on TV (or the bumper of a car). On TV, snow always totally covered the ground and was uniformly white. The first snowfall in Clinton was pretty light, as first snowfalls often are (heavy snow are more typical in March or April), and I was rather disturbed.  

The snow wasn’t a uniform white covering. The stubble of green (friggin GREEN! I don’t think grass in California was as green in June as grass in November in Iowa was) grass made the front lawn look like the unshaved cheek of Richard Nixon, if Richard Nixon had been as white as Michael Jackson and had green hair.  

What the heck? THAT is snow? Holy reality, Batman! These days, we would say WTF, but I was too polite. WTH!  

Snow was shocking in other ways. Despite its arid climate and no matter what schlocky pop songs say, it does indeed rain in California, don’t they warn ya. Rain, compared to snow, is very wet and loud. The silence of falling snow always impresses me. I was only used to things falling from the sky that plopped. In Iowa, things can plop, bang, do nothing at all or make a very soft “shush” sound if the flakes of snow are really big.  If you look up while it’s raining, particularly a hard driving Southern California rain, you get unpleasantly wet.  If you look up at falling snow, particularly at twilight when you can just still barely see the sky and everything in creation is magical anyway, it feels as if you’re staring into eternity.  Which has dandruff.  

Snow creates dunes and textures and multiple colors. It can be pristine white, like on TV (but let’s face it, in my young memory on TV, everything was either black, white or grey), but can also pick up lots of grit and be many shades of brown or black. It can be thin so that grass sticks through it, or so thick that it obscures holes, ditches and small shrubs. It can be piled into mountains—there was a small parking lot on our block where we excavated tunnels through the mountains of snow cleared from the lot.  

Last night, I had to bike home in the snow. At first, it was pleasant, as the snow was very light. It was silent and magical and beautiful. Then, about halfway home, the pace picked up. The pavement became wet and snow kept smacking me in the face. But, by the time I finally got into my neighborhood, the snow gods had relented again, and it was a pretty little flurry.  

So, we’re into snow again. I’ll be darn tired of it by March. Right now, however, I’m not one of the Iowans who is complaining about how “I’m not ready.”  

For goodness sake, it’s December. The last thing we want right now is rain—winter rain in Iowa is bone-chilling cold, dangerous because it can freeze and very unpleasant.  

I’ll take snow.



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4 responses to “The first snowfall of the winter

  1. Cate

    You know, it’s funny that your memory of that first Iowa snow is so clear while mine is not. Who are you and what have you done with my memory? But I digress – what I remember most is watching Brigid cavort on the sidewalk in her hand-me-down snowsuit that didn’t fit her well and hadn’t been worn by anyone since Tennessee – she was just so blissed-out, and I spotted her from a block away (on my way from school, maybe, although that doesn’t make sense given that I think Daddy was with her – but anyway)…
    I have lots of happy childhood snow memories, of elaborate forts we built in the backyard at 7th Avenue South, and of sledding down the hill at Clinton High, among other things. But my first thought when I think “snow” is the first time I remember driving in it. I was 16, with a relatively new license, and I was driving the VW bus home in the dark from my job at the clinic in Muscatine. It was one of those perfect snows, with gazillions of huge, fluffy flakes all coming down at once, and all seemingly aimed right at me, enhanced by the headlights. It wasn’t scary; it was awesome. It felt like I was floating through space.

    • crgardenjoe

      Yeah, it’s amazing how big and steep that hill behind Clinton High School loomed in my memory and how puny small it looked when I saw it as an adult. I have lots of funny winter memories from Clinton, including the fox and goose tracks and snow forts, but others, too:
      * One time I was convinced the house was on fire and ran to get Daddy. Turns out the dryer vent exhaust is a lot more visible in cold air–but he handled it well, didn’t laugh at me, and told me I had done the right thing.
      * I was heroically shoveling one night during a snowstorm and kept bursting into the hosue to give updates. Mama and Daddy just sat there placidly. It wasn’t until I had to take care of my own house that I understood–there’s never a point in shoveling during a snowstorm. Just wait until Mother Nature is all done.
      * Remember snow angels? I don’t know whey they were such a big deal, but had to be done jsut about every time it snowed … mostly it was an excuse to lie down in snow, I think …

  2. Pat

    It used to snow a bit in Tennessee, but usually only a couple of inches, sometimes barely enough to get away from the stubble look. I remember Daddy and Mama woke us up one night to look outside where six unprecedented inches of snow had fallen.

    I used to scrounge snow from a large fraction of the yard to build a snowman. (I can remember Daddy teaching me how to get a snowball started.)

  3. Pat

    Oh boy are we going to get snow. Just from the beginning of the storm, I saw a number of cars in the ditch this morning, and interstate traffic was moving at about 50 mph.

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