Snow: A love story

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hey, you people in the Midwest: Did you have enough of the stuff this week? Pretty, wasn't it, when it stormed down upon you? Now comes the hard part. Myself, I have big issues with the fluffy stuff. Snow is exciting to anticipate. You buy ingredients for a stew, bring up a full-bodied red wine, and stock the fireplace with logs. Snow begins with little flakes, then intensifies. It’s fun to watch; you really can’t take your eyes off it for more than a minute or two. But by the time the snowfall ends, the fun is over.
Almost all of us live in communities and cities. The power is down, and your children are antsy without their computers. That stew grows cold on an electric stovetop. The model railroad you were going to run is juiceless, too. Or maybe you and your spouse need to get to work, and guess who shovels the drive? For days thereafter, you are reminded that it snowed. It partially melts, turns to ice overnight, and you fall on your way to the car. On the road, the snow is no longer pretty, mixed as it is with mud and other contaminants. Every day it becomes grittier, grayer and blacker. Get the drift? How often do you hear of someone retiring and moving north to be closer to the snow? I’ll tell you: about as often as a dying man’s last words are, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
I come now in praise of snow. My travels this past week put me in constant contact with snow. Not once do I tire of it. I’m aboard a train, and snow is for me to enjoy and someone else to cope with. Leaving the underground Empire Connection from New York’s Penn Station aboard the Maple Leaf, snow blows over the Hudson River, almost hiding New Jersey on the other side. At Metro-North stations, commuters stand on platforms trying to shield themselves from the stuff, to little avail. That’s their problem, not mine. I’m warm and cozy, sipping coffee. Isn’t a snowstorm beautiful?
The next day, I discover Walden Pond, or at least my version of undisturbed nature. The northern Ontario traversed by VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian is paradise for those who fish or hunt. But it’s lonely country, and on this winter weekday the bears outnumber the people for hours on end. The owners of the cottages we see must all be in Toronto and Winnipeg, selling insurance or trading grain futures. As far as I can see, the snow is pure and undisturbed but for the footprints of wildlife. Those lakes for which the Canadian Shield is famous are flat tabletops of pure white, resplendent when the sun comes out in early afternoon.
My last afternoon on the train, after a window-washing on the dome-observation car, we leave Jasper, Alta., in a light snowstorm. It’s not heavy, as in a blizzard, but constant, driven by wind. A woman taking photos in the dome car calls this “a black and white day,” and as the light of day begins to fade, her words ring especially true. Across the river we’ve been following these last three hours, mountaintops become invisible. Every so often we pause to let a Canadian National freight growl past. I turn off lights in my bedroom and try to burn into my memory the beauty of what I am seeing.
I know that blizzards can stop trains in their tracks. But not every snowfall is a blizzard. The next time it snows in your city and you anticipate the second day and the inconveniences and ugly sights it will bring, ask yourself this: Wouldn’t it be fun to board a train and head north? — Fred W. Frailey

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