Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lovely, dark and deep?

About a year ago I was visited by friend who'd never seen snow. For him, seeing snow falling for the first time was a thing of wonder. He walked out of the house and stood watching the flakes descending ; their motion strangely hypnotic and seemingly too slow to believe. I also remember one particular snow-fall when great flakes began to fall in the middle of the city and it was as if someone had suddenly turned down the volume - the sound being muffled by them. The friend - once enough snow had fallen to cover the ground - went walking, his ears pricked to the sound, his feet alive to the sensation. "It's nothing like what I had imagined," was what he said, I recall.

The reason why I think of that day today is that this winter the snow has been on the ground since before Christmas and, having once almost thawed, has turned into a very light ice, with great big blocks that in weight and other characteristics remind me of nothing so much as Styrofoam. When it had originally fallen, it covered everything, even the individual links in the fence, with what can only be called a thick blanket - with all of the softness and smoothness of shape that suggests. Every step felt like an act of aesthetic barbarism that destroyed another bit of perfection. In the weeks since it felt, the snow has settled and also sublimated so that there is now much less of a cover on the ground but what there is is strong enough to support my weight, despite its own continued insubstantiality. On the other hand, the snow on the footpath outside the house, where I had sprinkled a liberal amount of salt, has turned into a gravely brown substance - but has not actually dissolved. The trees are now again covered in white but not a perfect blanketing of snow, instead the white being due to tiny flakes of snow that cover ever tiniest branch in a thin layer of white batter so that the shape of the tress is not concealed, instead being brought out even more sharply.

As it may be guessed, I am finding snow to be a thing of wonder and a source of quite a fair amount of pleasure. Both of these feelings are due in part to the sheer aesthetic beauty of what I am seeing and to the desire to understand how such beauty came to be. I think anyone who appreciates science will understand how coming to know what caused the various forms in which snow appears only serve to increase the appreciation of the experience itself. Which all serves to remind me of a Robert Frost poem.


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