The Gleaning of Snow

The minute Simon and I returned from our little morning walk, it began to sleet. I caught the very first of it, not because I saw anything, but because I had run back out to the mailbox and heard it. Little pellets, snapping as they landed on dry leaves. I stood coatless in the chill air, willing myself to see the little ice bombs, but sound was the only evidence available to my human senses.

I often think about other species, and what their reactions might be: would they feel sleet pelting fur or feathers? Would they hear the same sound I do? More of it? Less? Would they have seen it through an entirely different visual structure? (If dragonflies were still around, they would be looking through 30,000 optical units — what a sight sleet might be to them!) Does sleet have a smell to anyone?

I ran back in, the cold forcing me to abandon my quest to see early sleet. I checked the window frequently as I prepared a simple breakfast to take to our sister who broke her ankle last week. I thought I could see rain-like streaks, but it could have been my imagination.  Oddly, what I could see was the sleet gathering on the coldest surfaces: the driveway, our stone path, the brick patio between us and the chapel.

Suddenly I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye; the sky was sending down our first real snow of the winter! Little flakes at first, mixed with what I was now convinced was the sleet. But quickly their heftier fellows followed. Great, fat clumped crystals dropping straight down, as if their weight was too much for any wind to bear.

I thought about all the snows I’ve enjoyed since moving up here to the farm. I always want to rush out to take pictures of the first of the year; but I have a lot of those now, and none of them come close to telling the real story of a first snow. The rapid transformation of the landscape from greys and browns to pristine white. That feeling of being at the heart of a gigundous feather-pillow fight. The expectation (yes, hope) that the forecast was wrong and this will be one of the big snows of the year.

But most of all it is the sound of snow, though I’m not entirely sure this is limited to the ear. In my sensory system the sound of a good snowfall is something like a nearly silent shhhhhhhh that I can feel in my bones … a whispered plea from the whole of nature, asking for quiet attention.

She certainly has mine.

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