December Snow

Another day of heavy clouds broken by sun and rain—Seattle winter. Sometimes I think it’ll never snow again.  In California the closest we got to snow were fires, the Santa Anna winds blowing ash into gutters like snowdrift.  Here I can see the mountains and their white peaks but it feels so distant. One year I bought perfume that smelled of a snow storm when you open a warm front door—the cold crashing into your body, the edge of darkness pushed back with spilling light.  I wore it at my pulse points and went to a friend’s fundraiser hoping to find a rugged mountain man to keep my evenings warm and spent the night dancing with an ex when I should have run. I still remember the surprise in his eyes when he touched my skin, sweaty from dancing, and a different evening flashed into sight. So the snow lured him back, in a way, for a time.

Christmas time is a strong recipe for nostalgia, especially after spending 4 years in college in Bethlehem, a city that had to put out a press release announcing the generic postmark after being overwhelmed by out-of-towners depositing endless sacks of mail. White lights twinkle and, for most of December, you can hear the college choir practicing or performing for Vespers at the Moravian Church. Is it because fresh snowfall erases so much about a city? Is it because of the hush that falls, the filtered light, the way a window steams up as if to push away night fall?

The first major storm in Bethlehem I was caught at work on the wrong campus, a mile from my room with buses that, even with chains, had stopped running. It was probably a Friday night, that was the night that I closed the library with my boyfriend, and the place was empty.  We walked the stacks, gathering books from the tables, watching the snow out of the large windows.  Campus police came to lock and, because they saw us every Friday and often closed the coffee house I ran, knew we’d be stranded. They gave us a ride down the hill—slowly navigating the empty streets, and dropped us off at my building.  I ran upstairs to drop my things off while my boyfriend smoked a cigarette on the porch and when I came back down there were a few friends gathered.  Quiet energy was building—the kind that’s unique to snow storms and college students—the world closing into a bubble around young bodies just beginning to stretch into adulthood.

One of the houses we passed on Church Street. Photo credit: Kathleen Connally

We walked down the street a few blocks to the town library where we’d spent our first few hours together, reading romance novels out loud to each other during the monthly basement book sale, trying desperately not to laugh too loudly.  The landscaped shrubs had nets of white lights over them, peeking through the snow, and the courtyard was a blank field of white.  Snow haloed around the orange street lights and our footprints trailed blue shadows behind us. We scooped up snow into our gloved hands and drank deeply—still children in that way, wanting the cold on our tongues and reveling in the way it disappeared down our throats. My boyfriend cleared a bench off and I sat beside him, leaning into each other as our friends tipped back into the blank field, making snow angels.  When he kissed me our warm breath mixed with ice and snow dusted our shoulders.

My memory ends in that kiss and not what happened next. I’m sure we stood eventually, I’m sure we walked back to a warmed room and draped our cold things over chairs to dry.  Life kept moving forward, as it does when snow storms melt away.

Snow storms now mean something entirely different—friends disappear into the mountains chasing fresh powder, new tracks, higher elevation.  There are crevasses to be navigated, avalanches to be wary of, beer at lodges with loosened ski boots and thermoses of warm wine at the fire lookouts. The snow here is not my snow yet—it’s bigger, more dangerous, unfamiliar.  But look- I have skis leaning against my wall, borrowed boots, goggles that fog; I will learn.

(Image credit from this site.)

Outside the library, a different snow storm. Photo Credit : Kathleen Connally