Jeff Phillips: This is a Snow Dance

Snow dance

I want to crawl out of a cavernous snow bank, donning a jester’s getup, some sort of blessed staff in my hand, and rouse you to take my side on the enthusiasm spectrum, as pertains to snow.

A recent news report predicted Chicago will have warmer than usual temperatures and less snowfall this winter. The rejoicing I saw on my social media feeds contrasted the disappointment that spread in my gut.

I am at my most gleeful self when the world around me is blanketed in thick, falling powder. It stirs a dual anticipation of adventure and cozy hibernation.

I remember learning to cross-country ski with my parents in a field behind our house in Michigan. And the times soon after, when living in a hilly suburb of Pittsburgh, having numerous sledding options in every walking direction of my house. The first time I got to experience a snow delay turn into a full cancellation of school. Already outside, sledding on a neighbor’s hill, my mom called out to inform us, and my brother cackled and gushed and the joy shot like electricity, conducted through the thick precipitation in the air, to infect me.

I remember learning about space in the 2nd grade, and setting up my telescope in the front yard one night to look at the Moon. The crusty sheets of frozen snow, all around me, made me feel like I had already traveled to a different landscape on a different planet, and I didn’t need to gaze up.

Then we moved to Maine, where cross-country skiing became a bigger part of my life. I was on my high school’s varsity Nordic ski team, and each winter we took a trip up to Mont-Sainte-Anne, in Quebec, to train on 200 kilometers of trails. After a vigorous day pounding and gliding through the frigid snowscape, we’d spend the evening cooking food together at the farmhouse we rented. We’d rotate from the hot tub to the sauna, we’d dare each other to run around in the below freezing night, in just our swim suits, bare feet in the snow, to return for another plunge in the hot tub.  Then back we’d go into the sauna. The contrast of shocking freeze and the promise of a glowing warmth somehow stimulated both a sense of courage and deep relaxation, and perhaps this is what has forever etched winter, into my sense memory, as being the ultimate refreshment.

Digging tunnels into snowbanks, I felt myself a capable engineer, a small king with an earned domain. Ice skating on streams and ponds, I felt like a fast bird magnetized by the land.

I remember the ice storm of ‘98, when the power was out for a good week in Maine’s Androscoggin County. As a family, we all hunkered down in the living room, the fireplace crackling, reading books, listening to Seinfeld re-runs on the radio. It was a time when the family unit had a valid excuse to put busy agendas on pause, and just be together. And to look out the window: the heavy coat of ice, that weighed the top of the birch tree down to where it touched the ground, was a beautiful design inside of crystal. The icicles that fell, nearly piercing my skull, as I took a walk in the woods, were a thrill.

There was the time I tried to snow-shoe across a frozen pond and broke through into waist deep cold water. That was a good way to wake up the soul.

I look at snow with fondness. Even in the city, where it’s quick to get messy, as snow banks absorb grey sludge, the mark of dibs as a chair-a-torialistic eyesore, to look upon during a commute that takes thrice as long as it should. But the scenery of a flake’s fall to the Earth, for a time, rewires my brain. It smothers the grump in me, rouses the naive boy that can still embrace the day, the night, as canvasses for potential magic.

So, in my jester’s snow pants, I bounce the end of my staff to the pavement. This is to tick the shift in time, to boldly announce the new hour. I put on a mask that resembles the face of a polar bear. This is to symbolize that snow is in itself a mask for the landscape. Behind this costume piece, it may find freedom, in getting a season’s stint at playing a different role. Then my body starts to move. Upward, in circles, improvising where it will go, based on the unseen sparks speckling the air. My movements are meant to cheer on the snow, and likewise, snow, as it slowly joins to mimic my rhythm, is meant to cheer on me.

snow dance 2

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1 Comment

  1. I love the quiet a good snowfall brings. It derails our busy lives and forces us inside where it is warm and cozy. I love the crunch my boots make in freshly fallen powder and the way the sun makes it sparkle. Snow can be magical. For me, it isn’t Christmas without a little snow. There is only one down side to snow that I can think of and that is attempting to drive in it with other people, who do not respect it or the road. That get’s dangerous fast.

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