By G. E. Shuman
Something is coming to New England, in a very short time. We receive it every year, and if it has not arrived by the time this issue of the World is published, don’t worry. It will be here soon enough. You probably are already aware that the ‘something’ I’m referring to here, is snow.
Snow first appears in the North, each late fall or early winter, almost in secret. Weather experts tell us, and are sometimes right, when the first or the next snowfall will happen, but it can still often take us by surprise. I still remember, as a child in Maine, being so excited to wake up some crisp late-fall morning to discover that the first snowfall of the year had come, softly, silently, as I peacefully slept. I always think, that when that clean white snow first comes, it arrives, as the fog in Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog”, “on little cat feet”. It does not make a sound.
I began thinking all of this through, a few days ago, as I worked on my old snow blower, under the carport. Each year I try to get the aging machine ready for the huge amounts of snow we usually receive here in Vermont. This year I decided to get it a bit more prepared than I usually do. The machine is showing its years a bit, just as I am, and as things age, they need a bit more care. (I hope my wife reads that.) The snow blower has rust, and some moving parts that don’t work as well as they used to years ago. I can identify with those points, also. And, to my shame, I changed the old machine’s oil for the first time yesterday, and installed a brand new spark plug. Sometime in the next few days, I intend to remove a bit of the rust, and spray paint some places, to provide some protection, and, hopefully, make it last a few more years.
I installed the plug, filled up the gas tank, and prayed that the blower would start, which it almost immediately did. Only then did I remember how much I appreciate, but somehow hate the grating sound of that engine, as the device it powers helps me rid my driveway of the silent white stuff. What a contrast, I thought, between man’s machines, and the effortless occurrences of the natural world. My noisy, greasy, man-made thing, opposed, in more ways than one, to the silent white blankets of snow that it will soon encounter.
My faith makes me believe that a big snowfall is a sign of God’s power, in effortlessly blessing, or hindering us, depending on your feelings about snow, with many tons of frozen water, without making a sound. Our world meters all of this out to us, one flake at a time, because the land needs the moisture. It is a medicine which we need, and take, willingly or not so willingly, each winter. It comes, and it will always come, but you will not hear it fall.
Rain arrives in the other seasons, and often beats the ground, splashing into itself, in the very puddles that it forms. It is a sometimes comforting sound on the roof, and then it immediately rushes to streams, rivers and lakes. It is not the same with snow. Yes, sleet and hail can noisily pound on your frozen windshield in winter, but not snow. Wind whips around our homes, vibrating old window panes, seeking to enter at any spot that it might, but it’s not that way with snow. Snow comes, but you will not hear it fall. It then waits patiently, to fill the waterways when warmer weather arrives.
This winter, go outside during a fall of snow, and just stop. Don’t talk, don’t look at your cellphone, and for a moment, don’t even breathe. Be still, and listen. You may hear cars, or someone else’s cranky old snow blower in the distance. If you do, even those sounds will seem quieter, more distant, and muffled, all because of the blanket of white on the ground. Unless there is wind, the new snow will drop softly, silently, in peaceful stillness, straight down to the earth. You will see it, and you might feel it on your face, but, love it or hate it, you will not hear it fall.
“Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.”