Friday, February 22, 2013

Snow Rules

Closed for the season

Q and The Boy have been like elite athletes — trained, equipped, ready. They’ve thought and re-thought their strategies, drafted elaborate fort plans, contemplated the proper packing of the snowball. They’ve revisited, over and again, the Calvin & Hobbes snowman strips for macabre inspiration. For Christmas this year, a California aunt gave The Boy two WHAM-O! Snowball Blaster Solos™ and one WHAM-O® Snow Tracball™, each package picturing an ecstatic boy firing a perfectly round snowball at someone unfortunate and unseen. But for the last two years, snow in New York has never gotten past the possible, and Q and The Boy have remained on the bench.
This year “Winter Storm Nemo”* brings them both into the game. Though the projections shift nearly every time we consult them (anywhere between 6”-22” expected, the graphic tells us), we watch the possibility of snow become a promise, and not the thin inch about two weeks prior that came down like fine sand and, in the bitter cold, stayed that way despite all our pressing and packing.
Nemo makes the weekend a vacation. The storm comes in on Friday as rain and wind, and remains indecisive most of the day. Then with the sun down and the kids in bed (though probably not asleep), the clouds get serious about themselves, and the city becomes a celebration of snow.
Q and The Boy are up early that Saturday morning, turned out of bed by their expectations and ideas. We eat breakfast, something heavy (eggs and hash browns), and put extra layers between us and the world. Then, finally, outside.
About a foot has fallen in the night and together with the wind has re-landscaped the park. The benches have become easy chairs; the long slide is a trough full of white. Everything is new, but we are not the first. Though we get out fairly early, the park people have been out a little earlier, clearing the main walks with the red Toro tractor and its brush attachment throwing up a scarf of snow in a much smaller impression of the storm. Still it’s new enough.
All the park lawns have been fenced off for the season, as usual, to let the grass rest and come back in the spring. Normally our neighborhood fastidiously keeps to the rules. But in this new park, someone discovers a way into the smaller but steeper patch of ground through the leafless bushes on the side, and suddenly uncountably many kids are laughing down the grade on sleds, some official but most improvised—storage-container lids, cardboard boxes, boogie boards used to the temporary hills that come and go against the local shores. Q and The Boy find friends immediately (nearly everyone was out), which we eventually identify and track by their winter plumage:  Suzie in purple, Scarlet ironically in all cerulean. Soon the hill gets sleighed smooth and fast, with the downhill fence checking the kids just short of the path where the parents stand holding cameras or coffees or both.
Then someone loosens a post and brings down a six-foot stretch of the big lawn’s fence roll, and in something like a moment it, too, fills with kids sliding on all manner of things, some pulled by adults to help out the smaller grade.
The Boy and his best friend T experiment with his snowball launcher, which turns out to shoot better in the picture, but its cup and lever attachment produce snowballs so round they would have made Plato blush. Q quickly gets good at making them herself and then wows her friends with their frequency and perfection. She ends up with a constant line of kids asking her to make ordinance to deploy mainly against their dads and brothers.
We spend as much of Saturday and Sunday outside making and destroying as we can,** knowing that time is against us. The parks people, to their credit, leave the fence down all weekend — never even appear to trigger guilt let alone end the play, come to think of it. It’s not until Sunday night, about the time when the neighborhood kids enter baths and beds and when lids have gone back onto containers and exhausted boxes have been put out for recycling, I stand at the window and watch workmen out resetting the posts and wiring back up the fence roll.
What is it about snow that overrules? It’s a serious question. I’ve heard a poet say that it’s a way to walk on water, but I find that no more an explanation than saying a kid’s love of sand comes from being able to fill buckets with glass. I do think there’s something to Bill Watterson’s idea, brilliantly realized again and again, that snow turns the world into a blank page that we are called to fill with the writings of our being.
Still, Watterson’s metaphor misses something important. It’s not just that snow erases the world’s full slate; it forgoes the slate altogether. Imagine if you could, just anytime, easily fashion the ground into a chair or a (relatively) harmless ball to test your arm on a sign or a sibling. Or if you could roll up a fort, tall as you like, and trigger a battle that will end (relatively) peacefully in a hot, marshmallowed drink inside. What if you could at any moment push the world into a new shape, and it would stay?
Then again, it never stays — can’t, at least for us. Metaphors tend to drift up. Sleds aside, the going’s harder in the snow, the cold always looking for your fingers and toes and always eventually finding them. But despite the struggle and the cold — and unlike in spring — in the snow you can reintroduce yourself as an explorer and can look back to proof of where you’ve been. And then, inevitably, you can’t tell your footsteps from all the others.

*It seems the Weather Channel figured out that they could name storms, too. Why not? Right?
**A friend of mine and I made an outstanding snow monster that was destroyed by someone less than an hour later.