the good, the bad and the ugly snow


Recently I was asked, “Tell me about snow.”

The timing was perfect.

The questioner was Ingrid, a hotel manager in Belize. Accustomed to the Caribbean, she knew countless shades of blue. Surrounded by jungle, she knew the full spectrum of red and green. At the end of a day, she bathed in pink and purple sunsets.

But a blanket of white stretching to the horizon? That was something else entirely.

“Complicated” was the best I could answer as I tried to slide home from vacation between storms.

How exactly do you explain something as marvelous as chocolate cake, or as awful as cold scrambled eggs? How exactly do you describe snow or the ocean or the mountains to someone as virginal to these wonders as the first flakes of snow are new and untouched?

As I arrived home to a crystallized layer, mesmerized again by its web of beauty and power, I thought Ingrid deserved better.

Dear Ingrid,

First of all, snow really is white. Not cream-colored or gray-tinted or tanned like your beaches. Sometimes a blinding white as if every color in your rainbows has been pierced by lightening -- or like white icing before adding a tint of red or yellow when decorating a birthday cake with flowers.

Snowflakes -- each as different as every grain of your sand -- can be light and airy or heavy and thick, sort of like the difference between a cake baked by a gourmet French bakery and one baked by me.  When they’re light you can blow them with pursed lips so they fly away like the feathers of your tiny hummingbirds. When they’re heavy, they’re as dense as your wet sand when the rains come, mixed with the mud that floods from your hillsides.

Trudging in snow when it gets that way is about as pleasant as walking barefoot through your mucky jungle floor.

Snow is dazzling -- a smooth blanket of innocence and diamonds on the grime and dust we’ve come to accept as the earth and however we’ve sullied it. But it gets ugly when boots and oil-dripping cars have their way. We hate it when it’s ugly.

Like the ocean, snow is a force no man can control.  It makes you feel weak, helpless, trivial -- a good thing when you start to believe you’re a V.I.P. and the world would grind to a halt without you.  

No, it grinds to a halt when it snows.

When you’re young, you adore snow, like the first time you swam in the sea and knew you could float. Snow means sledding on big wooden planks that send you sailing; no boat required.  Or skiing on mountains -- gliding like a wind-surfer but the water is frozen.

If the snow gets deep, kids get days off from school where they do nothing but play. Or sleep with nowhere to go and nothing to do with no one telling them to get up.

If you’re lucky, snow means hot chocolate.  You have lots of chocolate in Belize, but nothing goes better with it than snow. They’re made for each other like sand and surf.

A big snowstorm that blankets your whole wide world is like seeing your national bird, the keel-billed toucan, flying overhead at the same time a graceful manta ray jumps out of the sea, at the same time the surf laps at the shore, at the same time a blackbird sings its morning song, at the same time bolts of light careen off the water, at the same time your feet dig into the sand.  Your senses are filled.

And yet, snow can stop things dead -- people, traffic, everyday life.  Snow can mean no fresh milk or eggs in the store. Not even cold scrambled eggs.  Snow can mean accidents and aggravation and anger. 

And snow can cause terrible damage -- cold, wind, ice, power outages, destruction. Snow is a dangerous beauty.  

So Ingrid, snow is complicated. Snow gets you thinking about the big things in life and the small things, and about how you want to do better and be equal to the nature around you. 

Come visit me Ingrid, like I visited you, and see the world around here.

But don’t come when it snows.

January 29, 2015

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