Someone, somewhere else, suggested a collaboration of journals for which everyone writes about snow. I’ve been sitting here thinking about snow, and the stories are like chips — I can’t think of just one. The memories aren’t exactly like chips though; not all of them are good. But I can think back to snow as a guide post for just about every turned corner of my life.
In my earliest memory of snow, I was only a couple of years old. My parents had recently split up, and it was early enough that my father was still interested in visitation. The interest waned as the years went on and it got harder. But for a while, I saw him fairly regularly, although he scared me a little: a stranger who came by every so often to take me on day trips. We lived in a suburb on Los Angeles at the time, and at age approximately three, I had never seen snow. My father came by to pick me up in a little pick-up truck, and I remember feeling motion sickness from riding on a curvy road, up a mountain. And then — snow. This memory is one of those faint early ones, which consist only of brief glimpses and feelings. I remember the truck, and the road, and the snow. I remember it was cold on my hands. I don’t remember who else was with us, or what we did, or how long we stayed. And I don’t know if I only remember a few visits because he only picked me up a few times, or because my memory is faulty.
My next memories of snow are from living in it. After my mom remarried, we moved to the midwest. The weather I recall mostly strongly was the summer thunderstorm, with the crashingly loud thunder, lightning that lit up the sky, and the threat of tornadoes. I would sit in the house, filled with utter terror. But, I also remember the snow. I remember being bundled up until I could barely move, making snowmen with carrot noses, and walking to school in heavy snow boots. But the funniest incident of that time I didn’t even know about then, I only learned about it later.
Last year, my mom gave me her box of recipes, and I was browsing through them, I came across something that seemed a little out of place, for a recipe collection at least. Now, it’s no big secret that my mom has some OCD tendencies. When I was growing up, she rearranged the furniture in the house once a month so she could wash all of the walls. Just last month, she got up at 3am and washed her car in the lawn so it would be clean for a trip she was taking. The recipe was this:
1 c of kerosene
1 gal of warm water
Dip sponge of terry cloth
Wash car in circular motion
Foil on rust on crome (sic)
So, I took a deep breath, decided what the hell, and asked. She looked surprised at the question. I guess it should have been self-explanatory. You see, in the winter, she couldn’t wash the car the regular way, outside in the driveway. Everything was frozen. So, she found this “recipe” in the newspaper and wrote it down (apparently, even the “circular motion” part, in case she forgot, I suppose). And she washed her car this way in the garage, every week, all winter long. Apparently, the kerosene works as soap but doesn’t require rinsing. Or something. I didn’t ask about the foil part. But by all means, if you’re stuck in the frozen tundra of winter and have an irrepressible urge to wash your car, try this recipe out and let me know how it goes.
Driving on ice
There was more snow over the years, but it all pales in comparison to Wisconsin snow. Wisconsin gets really fucking cold. People drive their trucks onto lakes and fish on top of ponds in little tents that have heaters in them running full blast. And generally speaking, these people don’t fall through and die an icy death and aren’t thought of as loons. That’s how cold it is. How I ended up in such a place, I really don’t understand, but for nearly five years, I was there, and had to make the best of a winter that had its first snowfall in early October and frozen ground unsuitable for planting a garden until nearly June.
The best thing I remember about that snow was the Siberian Husky I had who loved the snow so much. She managed to bounce through it, even though the drifts went as high as her chest. She would bury her nose in it and then fling her head up in happiness. It wasn’t so fun for me to bundle up with boots and gloves and sundry other protection from the cold everytime the dogs needed to be walked, but her boundless joy almost always made it worth it. Those walks made me realize that Ugg boots do in fact have a purpose. When you’re barefoot in the warm house and the dogs really want to go outside right this very minute, and no they really don’t want to wait until you’ve found wool socks and pulled on your boots and laced them up tight, Ugg boots seem like a Christmas miracle: you just slip your bare feet in and the wool lining keeps your toes soft and warm all through the walk. I haven’t worn them since I left Wisconsin though. I think my feet would detach themselves from my legs and run away in protest of the fiery sauna-like conditions those boots would cause in a world warmer than 25 below zero.
Things work differently in sub-zero Wisconsin. The gravel driveway was so long that we had to hire a snowplow driver to plow it on days it snowed. Sometimes he had to come both in the morning and the afternoon. He always came around 4am so we could open the garage door and drive to work in the morning. Because we lived on a country road, he often did double-duty: plowing the road as well, since the country trucks generally didn’t make it our way until later.
Once I got stuck on an airplane after it touched down because the jet bridge was frozen to the terminal and they couldn’t get it extended to the plane. We eventually took the stairs. But companies almost never closed due to snow. Roads were kept clear. No one wore a heavy coat until the temperature dipped below 20 degrees.
As much as I grew to like Wisconsin, I don’t miss the snow or the bone-chilling cold.
And now, snow has taken on a different meaning yet again.
Careening down an icy slope at full speed
I knew P. for quite a while before we started dating. I met him in winter, and he would get giddy at the thought of snow because that meant snowboarding. I never used to try anything as adventurous as that. I figured if I didn’t try it, I had a much better shot of staying in one piece. I’ve always been a little sad at myself though, missing out on so much. But when P. and his friends tried to get me to try snowboarding, I would laugh. It would never happen! I overcame my fears enough to try skiing years ago and ended up with a broken nose, a ride down the mountain on the back of a snowmobile, and a three hour drive down the mountain to the nearest urgent care facility. That was lifetime enough of snowsports.
But I kept hearing about snowboarding, and so one day during the next winter, I went with them to the mountain. Not to board, but just to watch. I drank hot chocolate and read a book and watched the skiiers and snowboarders out the window. Every so often, someone would take a break and pop in to tell me how much fun I was missing. But I was toasty warm and not in any danger of breaking a bone, so I was happy where I was.
But the next year, something happened. My life changed. It changed in ways I never imagined. And I found myself with a whole new life, an entirely different path ahead of me. I was starting over. I could do anything I wanted. And I wanted to try new things. Break away from the fears I had let box me in for so long. So, when winter came again, and P. asked me to go snowboarding with him, I said yes. Amazingly, I said yes.
My first time was a Friday night. It was dark and it was sleeting. And oh yeah, it was cold. Not Wisconsin cold, but cold enough for me in my makeshift snowboarding gear. I rented boots and a board with trepidation. What was I doing? P. laced up my boots and showed me how to click them into place. And then I had to figure out how to walk with one boot attached to a board. This is not as easy as it sounds.
When I got onto the lift, things got a lot worse. I’m afraid of heights for goodness sake, what was I doing up here, weighted down by this heavy board attached to my feet? And, I realized with increasing panic, when I got to the end of the lift, I would have to figure out how to a) get off b) put my feet, only one of which was actually attached to the board, on the slippery, snowy ground c) get out of the way of the lift and the people coming off it. I did not expect it to go well. P. assured me that everyone falls the first time. And most times after that for quite a while. He was right. In fact, the lift hit me in the back of the head. Fortunately, it didn’t knock me unconscious because that would have been really embarrassing. Instead, it just managed to knock me out of the way of oncoming skiiers.
The first time down the mountain on a snowboard is an exercise in not futility exactly, because futility would be a vast improvement. You not only can’t ride the board down the mountain, you can’t get to the part of the mountain that you start to go down. You can’t even get your boots to lock into the board or even figure out how you would manage to manipulate your legs to get them into such a position. Which is fine because even after agonizing for twenty minutes about how to do that, and feeling the joyous rapture of finally clicking in, you can’t possibly stand up. Instead, you lay there, in the freezing snow, unable to move, with a huge piece of wood strapped to your feet, and you wonder how it is that you ever thought this was a good idea. Because you will never stand up again. You will lay in the snow forever, being circled by teeny children who are doing flips over you. And maybe one day, the snow will melt, and you’ll be able to walk down the mountain in the mud. Only surely the bears will have gotten to you by then, so ever walking again is only an impossible dream.
And now is when you discover the value of your shoulder muscles. And waterproof gloves. Because the only way up is to firmly plant your hands in the snow behind you and push. Nothing happens of course, which is when you begin to wish you actually had shoulder muscles. Eventually, with enough trying and cursing, particularly at the person who brought you, who all the while is saying irritating encouraging things, outrageous impossible things like “you can do it!” (and throwing snowballs at you for variety), you may be able to push yourself up.
You will fall again imediately.
This is because you are on a slippery mountain, covered in snow and sloping downward at an impossible angle. Oh, the person with you will call this the “bunny slope”. You will realize that the bunny in question is a huge, angry rabbit, who is now exacting revenge from all those people who cheered on the tortoise in that race.
By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I was exhausted: from continually trying to push myself up, from hitting the hard snow when I would fall (which was mere milliseconds after I managed to stand up), from being terrified of the steepness of the hill. I was soaking wet from the sleet and from spending the majority of my time laying in the snow. But I was ready to try it again. And as much as I cursed P.’s name, he was the epitome of patience. He didn’t aim the snowballs at my head. He didn’t mock me… much. And he didn’t complain that it took us at least a half hour to get down a run that would normally take him all of two minutes. And he even happily went up with me again.
Once you get the basics of snowboarding down — the balance and leaning; being able to get off the lift without getting bonked in the head; turning — the real boundaries are psychological. I’m proud that I kept at it. That I tried something I thought I never would, and that I was able to do it. I got a season pass and I went as often as I could. The first time up the lift was always the hardest. What was I thinking? I’ll never make it! But I love the feeling of overcoming my fears, of accomplishing something, of doing something even though it’s hard at first.
And I can’t wait for snow on the mountain again this year.