I live in Bellingham, Washington, a town that despite it’s northerly location, doesn’t tend to see a lot of snow. We’re only about twenty miles south of the Canadian border, but our climate is moderated by the pacific ocean, resulting in a wet but very mild weather situation. We sometimes get snow, but usually it’s just a dusting, maybe an inch, that melts over the course of the day if it sticks at all.
Snow happens here when arctic weather flows south out of Canada through the Fraser River Valley and meets wet air coming northeast off the Pacific. This convergence often happens south of here, and we’ll get reports of a snowstorm coming in, only to have it snow itself out over Skagit County while we get twenty degree temperatures and clear skies.
I’m known as a bit of a snow grump. This is an unfair characterization. The problem is that I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and I’m well familiar with snow. The problem is that here, we get a winter storm advisory, and everyone freaks out and rushes to the store. Once the flakes start falling, people start immediately plowing their cars into ditches, even when the pavement is clear and wet. And what we end up with is a grey, slushy, unpleasant mess that is cold and wet without the benefit of beautiful white snow or even snowball fights. And slushball fights are not something anyone wants to be involved in.
But once every few years, a day like today happens.
It started snowing last night, but there was really only a dusting on the ground when I went to bed. When I woke up, it was still snowing, and we had around an inch and a half on the ground. So I got bundled up, Northwest style (Northwest style is a half dozen layers under a rain jacket) and went out for a walk to do some errands. By the time I got back home, we had three inches, and it was still snowing.
I met some of my lady friends for tea in Fairhaven, and by the time I got back from that we had around six inches.
And it’s still coming down hard out there.
When it snows like this, I love the snow. It’s beautiful, and soft, and it deadens the highway noise. It stacks up on trees in delirious pillows. It covers over all of the dirt and the garbage and gives one a visual respite.
It’s more than that, too.
Snow makes people slow down. It encourages people to spend the day at home, or at the least to walk to where they’re going. It entices people to look around at accustomed places with new eyes. People are cheerful; life is, for the most part, on pause for the day, and everyone is nice to one another. Children are out playing in public spaces, and their parents are out playing with them. People smile more, strangers say hello to one another, and people aren’t just out working or spending or consuming. They’re doing something better than that. They’re experiencing, they’re participating in community, and they’re enjoying a day in the snow.
We are always putting off small enjoyments until another day, always assuming that there will be plenty of days to enjoy. Instead, we prioritize work, errands, tasks, and chores. But there’s not a day when these obligations will end. Most of us will have to work until or past retirement age, and the house has always got to be cleaned. If we don’t build time for enjoyment of life into our days, then it will never happen. At least, not until we’re too old to take real advantage of it.
But when something so rare as a snow day, a real snow day, happens in Bellingham, Washington, well… one of those only comes around once every few years! That’s reason enough for people to stop and enjoy it. It’s reason to build a snowman, to make snow angels, or just to take a walk. And even those who do choose to drive do so more slowly, more carefully, and more courteously.
The snow changes the landscape. It hides little hills and holes, and fills everything in smooth. It piles up on tree limbs and weighs them down, sometimes clean to the ground, creating alabaster arches and tunnels. People pay attention to the transformed landscape, looking at the snow piling up, looking at the icicles, and taking photos. Some people just stay inside with a blanket, a cup of cocoa, and a book or a favorite TV show.
Snow days give us the excuse we need to take a break from the bizarre, self-imposed frantic nature of our lives, and to take a breath and look and feel and enjoy and take time.
And man, if that’s what it takes to get us to do it, then I say, let it snow.