Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Fresh cold air"

The sound is distinctive, a little hard to describe: a top-note 'shoosh', a melody of squeak-scrunch, and a rhythmic tump-tump bass discreetly and quietly tying it together. This is the sound of walking in what I call 'fluffy-squeaky snow.' This is a particular kind of snow I associate with my youth in the far north of the province, snow that falls, suddenly, out of a bright, cold day, falls for hours and accumulates in soft drifts that easily obliterate sidewalks and tire tracks. It needs to be cold for this snow to fall, its crystalline flakes what I consider to be the perfect size: neither the miserly, miserable tiny specks of a deep-freeze snow, a snow that seems more like frost that forms in mid air, nor the big wet, clumpy flakes of the barely-freezing weather that's more usual around here, snow that forms itself immediately into slush when it hits the ground. No. Fluffly squeaky snow is the perfect snow.

We are adrift in fluffy squeaky snow this weekend. It fell and fell yesterday, and when we ran over to the neighbours' Christmas Open House we carried Munchkin through thick drifts, tucked our pants into our boots, giggled in the sharp cold. Great swaths of frost formed on all the insides of our single-pane heritage windows. The weather has stayed very crisp and cold, which is unusual for this time of year in this part of the world, and we awoke to a sparkling white landscape. Pynchon shovelled and shovelled, collapsing into an overheated, overexerted nap afterward. Munchkin and I slept and slept, too, all of us awaking, groggy and discombobulated, sometime after four, not much knowing what we would do with ourselves until our next bedtime. I ineffectually made attempts to clear the detritus of a brunch party from the kitchen; Munchkin threw her shoes in frustration and took a couple of practice dives for an incipient tantrum; Pynchon cracked open a Diet Pepsi and tried to caffeinate himself awake. I stopped and stood in the middle of the kitchen, rag in hand, at a loss.

Pynchon asked me if I was okay. "I am, but ..." I replied, and then it hit me, "but what I would really, really like to do is go for a walk through the neighbourhood, alone."

He sent me off, and my escape was as easy as that. High, lined boots. Thick scarf. Long parka, and hood. Double mittens. And out the door: a blast of cold on the tip of my nose, across the tops of my thighs through the denim of my jeans. The dark of December's early night sky and the glow of streetlamps, the twinkle of outdoor Christmas lights. I walked, swoosh squeak thump, up and down the streets of our neighbourhood, looking at trees through lit windows, admiring the curve of fresh snowbanks, listening to the metal twang and plastic scrape of shovels clearing driveways.

I lost myself in memories: this is the weather of my home town, and these solitary evening walks a habit of my youth. My nose got cold, my thighs went numb, and the tips of my toes, too, just like I remember. I remember: settling my thoughts in the step-step-step momentum of the walk, focusing my attention through the bracing stimulus of strong cold, the hypnotic effect of listening to your own breath, cocooned in thick outerwear. Thoughtful. Peaceful. This is how I medidate, a real northerner, in methodical, deliberate, pointless winter peregrinations, swaddled in fleece and down.

When I got home, dinner was on the table, and Munchkin ran to greet me. I happily played with her and sang to her and bathed her and read to her and hugged her. I felt renewed, capable. The time to myself, and for myself, in that snow and cold that rooted me to my past did me a world of good.

Friday, as we walked out to the car to go to preschool, Munchkin gulped a greedy lungful of morning air. "Ah! Fresh cold air," she exclaimed, a phrase she probably picked up from a book or a teacher at school. And that's what it feels like this weekend. Fresh cold air blowing out the cobwebs, a new beginning.


Omaha Mama said...

What beautiful imagery. You've got me craving snow now.

BOSSY said...

Snow? So jealous. Bossy just has cold. And wind.

Cloud said...

I never learned to appreciate snow (or cold) like this during my undergrad years in Chicago. I must confess, I don't miss it at all now that I live somewhere where 60 degrees F is considered cold!

But I know what you mean about the walks alone. I used to take a walk on the beach every morning. I had given it up long before we moved away from the beach, and I think the walk was more important than the beach. But I still miss it. I haven't found time in my schedule to bring it back- yet.

Jenifer said...

I love walking in crunchy, squeaky snow it does remind me of my longish walks to the bus stop. We finally have some snow that is sticking around so that is making the girls happy.

And I know what you mean about being alone, I really do.

Beck said...

I love walking alone on cold bright mornings, the trees glittering with ice. I do not, however, love the -25 weather and flurries that we currently have. No.

Mad said...

The noise of Edmonton sidewalks in January will never leave me.

ewe are here said...

I never knew that snow made different kinds of 'sounds'. Very cool.

But I do know how lovely it can be to take a solitary walk to take in winter...

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