I love snow far too much for someone who has spent most of her life in the Midwest. Even in late February—when novelty and Christmas spirit have faded—a two- or three-inch forecast still sends me into giddy anticipation.
I watched this winter’s first snowy dusk from my cash register, catching glimpses in between Hello, how are you today? and Would you like your receipt? I wanted everything, everyone to stop. Pause. Listen. Didn’t they see what was happening? The light was quiet, blue-grey, gentler and newer than the orange and yellow we had seen in September or July.
I had, after all, been reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek while eating my leftovers in the break room. My mind was still following foxes and Annie Dillard across wintry landscapes, trekking through the cruelty and beauty of nature. But this was a retail store, not the Blue Ridge Mountains, and there were customers to greet and groceries to bag.
The snow I like best is also the most terrifying snow: thick, heavy flakes, then a sudden rush of freezing rain.
Schools close as temperatures drop lower and lower. Cars, already honking and skidding on the interstate, slow to accommodate accident after accident. Driveways become danger zones; pipes crack and burst; even dogs have to squeeze their paws into boots.
But the trees. The trees are rare, glittering, and beautiful. Their trunks shine with ice, each frozen twig a miniature sculpture. In spring, summer, and fall, I admire leaves; in winter, I stare at branches.
Perhaps I love snow so forcefully, so obsessively, because the more obvious emotional response is fear.
Retail work in December means shift after shift of commercial Christmas music on the intercom: jingling bells, a few allusions to Santa, and plenty of snowy imagery. By the second week of the playlist, I had noticed a trend. Dozens of songs pictured their narrators battling blizzards, stuck in traffic, falling in love while inches turned into feet.
According to “Let It Snow,” we have to be honest: the weather outside is frightful. On the “Coldest Night of the Year,” our narrators are just the victims of the weather. (Sending you home now just wouldn’t be nice, the lyrics explain. What a polite way to describe black ice and Michigan potholes.) “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” currently experiencing another kind of lyrical storm, is almost brutal in its meteorology: I’ve got to get home (Baby you’ll freeze out there)/Say lend me a coat? (It’s up to your knees out there!)
Even in cheesy holiday songs oozing with packaged romance, fear is the appropriate response to a snow-covered world. And yet—sometimes in the same breath—we long for a white Christmas, if only in our dreams.
The morning of Grand Rapids’ first snow day, I was at work. After decades of linking high snowfall with cancelled school, I had woken up, scraped off my car, and clocked in for an eight-hour shift. Nothing about my routine would change because of a little white fluff.
But that day the store was missing its usual collection of retirees, stay-at-home parents, and split-shift nurses. Even the few customers wandering the aisles had obviously walked from home: tightly-wrapped scarves, coats, and hats ballooned their bodies into oversized versions of Randy from A Christmas Story.
Wiping my already-clean register for the fifth time, I watched the snow. Thick, globby specks of white dotted the sky, like Impressionist brushstrokes viewed too close up.
“I love this. I just love this so much,” I said, half to myself, half to my fellow cashier.
She nodded, the grey spikes of her hair slightly shifting with the movement.
“Snow stops everyone in their tracks. Everyone. You might think you’re powerful, but snow stops you. Pauses you.”
Even the carols I choose after work hours have their own series of snowy images. These lines always strike me as somewhat humorous, since even winter flakes are rare in Bethlehem (and no self-respecting shepherd would send his flock out to graze in a blizzard). I adore “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with its Holst melody and Rossetti poetry, but “frosty wind” probably did not “moan” and the “water” was probably not “like a stone.”
And yet. I look up the songs I love, searching for mentions of snow and cold and ice. And while I find a few, I find far more mentions of stillness and quiet: Above thy deep and dreamless sleep/the silent stars go by; the world in solemn stillness lay/ To hear the angels sing; and of course: silent Night, holy Night / all is calm, all is bright.
Maybe snow is not such a ridiculous Advent image after all: with every flake, a hushing whisper to look. To watch. To wonder.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she is job-hunting and otherwise trying to define life after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.