Snow gets a bad rap for a series of reasons. It gets in your shoes. It is cold. It sweeps the green under a white rug. It is the nagging aunt who comes over for the holidays and overstays her welcome, somehow managing to clutter up the home all the while. It is a common complaint heard in the halls of UNBC, “Oh no, it’s snowing again,” one can hear some say.
Most readers are likely aware of the ancient parable of the blind men and the elephant. For those unfamiliar, it is a tale of some blind men who happen across an elephant and in turn form individual impressions about the elephant at large. The men arrive at different conclusions about the elephant as a result. The moral, of course, concerns the nature of truth and its malleability when subject to subjective experience. John Godfrey Saxe, in his poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, bookends the composition as follows:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
It begged the question, at least for me, as to what such men might have to say about the snow? Snow is perhaps not as tangible as an elephant tusk, but the richness and variety of ways in which it can be described and given form in word is something I imagined these ancient wise men would be reticent to miss. What follows is what happens when words condense around these ideas until sufficient mass of meaning accumulates such that they slowly drift down to the paper.
The first man saw the snow as a drifter. The snow seemed unwilling to settle on a single course. It would apparently alter its path on a whim, meandering about this way and that with no discernable rhyme or reason for its given trajectory. From time to time, however, the snow would take a moment to still itself in the sky, as if stopping to enjoy the beautiful view of everything beneath it before resuming its inexorable descent.
This gave the man pause.
His life had been as unpredictable as the snow he saw, with the only certainty being that a final resting spot was moving ever closer with each passing moment. Had he taken the time to stop and survey the world around him? Had he allowed indecision to inadvertently guide the course of his life? Would he be remembered when he rested in the ground, or would he merely melt away in the memory?
The second man saw the snow as a rebuttal to the restless rain; a frozen firebrand intent on precipitating change. He listened, and where the rain would roar, the snow instead would whisper. He listened closer still, and realized the snow had something to say. It told him the tale of its time tumbling and tossing inside the uniform grey prison in the sky. It told him that by sticking together, they managed to break free from their heavenly tyranny. The wicked wind was dispatched by the grey prison to hunt the snow, all the way down to the earth itself if necessary. The wind would howl with fury, piercing the crowds of snow to punish them. But the snow was not the subject of sky nor sea; it would never again surrender its sovereignty. The snow sidestepped and parried each stabbing gust of wind, deliberately darting to-and-fro to avoid capture. The snow would otherwise stay silent, so as not to give itself away.
This made the man ponder.
What had he run away from? Had he ever been brave enough to challenge the status quo, to ever attempt to shake off the shackles that kept him confined to his quiet corner of existential comfort? The snow was brave in ways that he never had been. It moved through life with a quiet confidence that settled onto his consciousness and stayed there for the remainder of his days.
The third man saw the snow as a sentiment. The snow is sensation and feeling given form; it is a mood made real. It is a gentle hand that guides one inside, into the pages of a book, toward the teapot, and beside the wooden fireplace. The snow is a reminder that such small comforts are, like snow itself, bigger than the sum of its parts. It is serenity itself, sliced into countless pieces and sprinkled upon the world to slow it down, to remind us that we are surrounded by myriad small joys if only we take the time to see them.
This made the man stop.
Had he been too focused on the supposed big things in life? Had he been too distracted by the sun in the sky to notice the buttercups on the ground he walked by? Perhaps so. But it was never too late to change. That’s the thing about sentiment, isn’t it? It changes all the time. How we felt about something when we were small likely is very different than how we feel about it now. The world itself changes too, of course, but the revelation made by the man in this moment was not that he had to change the world, but instead that he could change it simply by changing his view of it.
Heisenberg was a prominent scientist in the early 20th century, notable for his contributions to the field of quantum mechanics. He once remarked that “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.”
Snow gets a bad rap, but this need not be so. Snow is neither sinner nor saint and is indifferent to your stance either way. Regardless of how you see it, you are partly in the right. And that is the key.
See the snow as something beautiful, and you might find the cold, dark winter a little less cold and dark for it.