It is cold again, and suddenly overnight there is snow on snow on snow, the way I remember it from when I was small and our little blue house would get buried right up to its shiny tin eaves. We’d climb up the drifts and struggle to sit on the edge of the roof. We never made it–the snow slid on the tin, and our small mittened hands could never get a strong enough grip to hoist ourselves more than a few inches up. I suppose, for the peace of mind of my parents, that was for the best.
I go out with Kai, and the woods are silent under the snow. Everything is silent–muffled, wrapped close in all this falling, swathed in this crystalization of water and wind that has stilled now and left us gasping in its wake. It falls, huge and perfect, each snowflake a cluster of smaller snowflakes. Kai runs ahead, leaving a line of tracks, one foot before the other, a tightrope to break the smooth white around us. My own steps are big and clumsy in my winter boots, my footprints turned gently toe-out, leaving a trail in that torsioned dancer’s walk I’ll never be rid of. Between the trees, I can see the mountains. In summer these are hidden–but now, with the fingers of the branches bare against the sky, I can see their dusky blue-grey slopes. It’s a curious thing–like catching a glimpse of the back of one’s own head in a mirror, or realizing for the first time the color of a loved one’s eyes.
My breath freezes on my scarf, and it is stiff and cold against my cheeks. I turn back from the forest–I too have promises and miles. By the time I return, the view from my front step, stretching out over the Green Mountains, is hidden. I can scarcely see the trees at the bottom of the field. The winter reveals and conceals with the same sweeping hand.
In the paddock, the sheep stand quiet. Last spring’s lambs gambol and wade, up to their bellies, forging into the drifts and searching my hands for apple slices. When the snowfall thickens, they look at me, curious, but do not scurry for shelter until we open a new bale of hay, fill the long feeder in the run-in. We feed them inside out of necessity: the ewes would rather stand in the open, snow collecting on their backs, adding to the warm insulation of their wool, but the hay feeder in the paddock is buried too deeply to dig out. They line up, twelve woolly bodies in a long row, and scuffle along the run-in for the best flakes of hay. We haul water, shovel manure, leave the barn open in case the wind picks up again in the night.
Later, I spend an hour clearing the end of our driveway. I shovel in my tee-shirt, warm in the twenty-degree stillness, snowflakes melting in my hair. Kai helps, alternately near-swimming in the drifted snow that rises above my waist and perching atop a wave of powder that is taller than I am to watch me. As I work, my hands grow warm and rough, old callouses waking to the shovel. The cross around my neck dances in the cold, and I know again what it is to realize, all of a sudden, in the pause between a taken gasp of air and the long, slow letting out, that I am alive. I stop, lean on my shovel, look down at my hands, run my fingers over my palms, wonder. How good this is!
And at last, slowly, afraid he would find nothing, Douglas opened one eye.
And everything, absolutely everything, was there.
The world, like a great iris of an even more gigantic eye, which has also just opened and stretched out to encompass everything, stared back at him…
I’m really alive! he thought. I never knew it before, or if I did I don’t remember!
He yelled it loud but silent, a dozen times! Think of it, think of it! Twelve years old and only now! Now discovering this rare timepiece, this clock gold-bright and guaranteed to run threescore and ten, left under a tree and found while wrestling.
“Doug, you okay?”
Douglas yelled, grabbed Tom, and rolled.
“Doug, you’re crazy!”
They spilled downhill, the sun in their mouths, in their eyes like shattered lemon glass, gasping like trout thrown out on a bank, laughing till they cried.
“Doug, you’re not mad?”
“No, no, no, no, no!”
Douglas, eyes shut, saw spotted leopards pad in the dark.
“Tom!” Then quieter. “Tom . . .does everyone in the world . . .know he’s alive?”
“Sure. Heck, yes!”
The leopards trotted soundlessly off through darker lands where eyeballs could not turn to follow.
“I hope they do,” whispered Douglas. “Oh, I sure hope they know.”
~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
Photo of me, and most photographs of Kai, by my mother.