Wishing for Snow

I’ve just returned from another soggy dog walk. My rain pants and jacket are dripping on the floor, and the baseball cap I wear to keep the rain off my glasses is sopping. Not to mention the dog who – despite shaking herself off regularly along our 45 minute route – is soaked to the skin.
Water ponds in our outer yard, especially in the spots where the previous owner was over-zealous with his backhoe, compacting the soil (or what remains of it) again and again. The wetland in the hollow behind our house is full to the brim, a grey sheen of water rising ever higher against the stems of the alders that have colonized it.
It’s a far cry from last summer, when we hit Stage 4 drought on July 3rd. Given that experience, it seems ungrateful – churlish, even – to complain about the rain. We need this water to refill groundwater and soil moisture storage reservoirs; unless we can find some large water tanks, we don’t have a good way to store this precious resource for summer use.
The last time I experienced such a rainy winter was during the previous El Niño of 1997-98. It was just before we left Vancouver Island for our peripatetic wanderings across the West, and provided an excellent impetus to leave. Anything to get away from the constant, pouring rains.
We moved instead to snow: Edmonton, Prince George, Lethbridge. Places where winter is a living, breathing thing that takes over the calendar for months at a time, where bundling up and heading into the cold, white landscape is a simple part of life.
As I watch the rain fall, relentlessly, from my office window, it’s snow I pine for. And – perhaps not surprisingly if you factor in the serendipity I wrote about in a previous post – it’s snow that’s been the main character in several of the books I’ve read recently.
We often talk about the Inuit having more than 50 words for snow (a claim that has since been debunked: Inuktitut has about 22 words for both snow and ice). But another Canadian region also has many words for snow and ice: Newfoundland, where the regional dialect has evolved over the years from British, Irish, and Scottish influences.
In Brickle, Nish, and Knobby: A Newfoundland Treasury of Terms for Ice and Snow (a Christmas gift from my sister), writer and artist Marlene Creates not only details each of these long-lost words for snow and ice. She also illustrates them with photographs from her boreal forest property in Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, and incorporates them into a poem that spans the winter season. A “living screecher of a storm,” for example, is a severe howling wind with rain or snow, while “the old woman fluxing her geese” describes a light fall of snow. Though in a different dialect, the mental images these words invoke is almost perfectly matched to the type of snow they represent.
Creates’ book reminds me of Beth Powning’s Home: Chronicle of a Northern Country Life, in which Powning marries her explorations of her large acreage in New Brunswick with images of that property. Her explorations – through all seasons, including winter – become that much more vivid with the inclusion of her photography.
I feel the attraction of this combination of text and images; Creates’ photos, in particular, have a certain abstract quality that I also find in my own photos.
But what really appeals to me is this detailed, immersive exploration of winter. The documenting of the very season that drives retirees to my part of the country, where they don’t have to shovel rain and the temperatures rarely drop below -10°C.
I am a winter person. Not only was snow and ice my research area as an academic scientist, but I was born in a wintry land northeast of Edmonton. I grew up building snow forts, going outdoor skating, tobogganing, and cross-country skiing. During my PhD (based in Edmonton), my husband and I spent a lot of time in the Rockies, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, and skating on the outdoor oval at Jasper Park Lodge. In Prince George we snowshoed the backcountry with the dogs, and took them to remote field sites to collect snow and weather data.
My longing for snow has hit me hard this year, much harder than I’d expected. As another inch of rain falls and the yard collects ever-larger pools of standing water, I imagine skiing across an open field of fresh snow, or snowshoeing a forest trail to the edge of a frozen creek.
It doesn’t help that another book I just finished: The Map of Enough, by Molly Caro May, centres largely on her life on over 100 acres of Montana wilderness during winter. While much of the book misses the key tenet of memoir writing (to confide rather than to confess), her descriptions of winter life captivated me. She and her partner explored their acreage on skis and on foot, and with their dog. The snow itself became a main character: falling, blowing, drifting, settling, and eventually melting.
I know that climate change has changed the snowfall pattern in many places, so that freezing rain is more the norm in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring. I know that snowy regions often have terrible spring bugs – Prince George in June, for example, was an exercise in avoiding the swarms of mosquitoes. But I still long for a deep, fresh snowfall to play in. For air so cold it shocks your lungs and freezes your nostrils shut. For the glitter of a fresh snowfall under a clear night sky.
One day I’ll be back in the snow zone. My skis and snowshoes lie in wait, ready for new adventures. But for now I watch the rain fall, plan the garden that I’ll be able to plant weeks earlier than the rest of the province, and make the most of winter kayaking in the mild coastal weather.

56 thoughts on “Wishing for Snow”

  1. Great post Sarah. It’s something I struggle with here in the UK (especially after living in Newfoundland and Saskatchewan). We had a very light dusting to wet snow last week; it lasted < 24 hours, and puts us in the overly-generous category of ’winters in which it snowed’ here in Bedfordshire. The English countryside along the 5km bike ride to work is a mix of soggy fields, rutted trails, and muddy paths from early November through sometime in March. We’re even in one of the Uk regions with, historically, the least amount of rainfall (somewhere around 600 mm/yr on average).
    But there’s something about snow on the ground that signals ’refresh’ and, if only for a little while, hides the mess and the mud.

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  2. Lovely. It can be strange how things change. Since I do more outdoor things, especially involving my bike and my kids, I’ve developed a strong, strong aversion to winter, having loved it as a child. Where it was fun and beautiful I see it now as grey and suffocating.
    A matter of perspective, I suppose.

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  3. Great post. To be honest, I am not really a winter person. But during last years when there was not much snow, I started to miss it. I miss the smell of the air when it is snowing, I miss the beautiful shining of snow in the night and I miss the scenery which snow always creates. Hopefully we will see more snow next year here in Europe.

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  4. Aw <3 I am living in NC right now and was born and raised in NH. We have a ton of snow and its below 0 a lot! I am enjoying this break with great weather! But the snow is so beautiful and I have to admit I miss a snow day.

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  5. well-researched, well-worded.
    hmm: MOOVE to where we live, western Colorawdough — where you can LOOK from your (usually dry) place in the high desert to the mountains all around and travel, eh, as short as 30 minutes up to 1.5 hours+ to get to THE DEEP STUFF.

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  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. As a native Floridian I’ve never been in true snowy weather but I long for it. Family is the reason I stay here, otherwise I’d be somewhere much colder.

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  7. It has been an exceptionally rainy winter. Endure it we must, because we will be happy come summer when we have all that water to call upon. If you can, travel to the snow. Great post!

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  8. I live on the equator, have never experienced snow, yet long for it. I cannot explain the feeling but reading your post makes me long for it even more. I sometimes believe I lived among snowy mountains in another life and it’s calling me home. Then reality sets in and I realise it could just be that I have a very good friend living in Calgary that shares her every winter escapade with me that I am so hooked on the prospect of snow! I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your vivid descriptions.

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  9. I’m in Saskatchewan, and truth be told this winter is just SAD. I love snow, I love the cold air. An while we do have some snow, it doesn’t stick around long enough to enjoy, and it surely is not snowball or snowman material. Bummer! I was looking forward to some unique snow building fun with my daughters!

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  10. Great read, I am from Georgia and here we only get a dust of snow where I am located. Its sad really because when I lived in New Jersey we got a lot of snow and my two oldest kids were able to go out and play in it. I took lots of pictures. However, with my last child he only know about snow from watching it on T.V hopefully this year for Christmas when we return to Jersey for a visit he will get to see and experience snow first hand. Hey checkout my site https://myjourneytoahealthylife.wordpress.com/ sometimes and let me know what you think.

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  11. I live in the South where there is absolutely no snow. 🙁 However, I traveled to New Jersey once and I was ecstatic to see the snow! It was incredible and quite hilarious because my brother had threw a snowball at me and I started crying and I ran off to tell my mom.. (I was very young when this happened). I hope to see snow again soon!

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  12. Making a snowman has been my one of my bucket lists.Since my country ,Philippines has only two seasons (dry and wet) ..I often like the photos of my friends who are living in Canada or Northern Europe enjoying the snow..(for a few minutes ,because they said it’s really cold.)..Someday I will.. 🙂

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  13. Even though we had a touch of snow this year and Mt. Washington was doing well, all this dreadful never-ending rain (except today the sun came through) is enough to make a person go crazy! I hate the constant pumping out my basement, especially when you have to enter the basement from the outside!!
    I also miss the snow! Nice seeing another V.Islander on here!
    Cheers!

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  14. I know your feelings… We have had a relatively low snow total in Northeast Ohio this year however, last week we were treated to the most amazing snowstorm… The trees were literally kissing the ground as the wet snow made everything look like a postcard…. I took a walk when I got home and if made me appreciate the beauty and power of nature……nice post thanks

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  15. Loved your description of a snowy winter. We recently came home to Southern Alberta from 2 weeks in your neck of the woods. Although we had a fabulous time and enjoyed seeing the daffodils poking their bright faces through the foliage, we longed for our sunshine! We’re fortunate to have a mild dry winter interspersed with a week here and there of fresh white snow. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  16. It was so nice to read this post. I was thinking that I was the only one mourning the lack of snow this winter and bemoaning the warm, wet weather. I enjoy all the seasons, but I’m moving into spring this year feeling cheated of the crisp, sparkling beauty of winter and all of the activities that usually accompany it.

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  17. I enjoyed your post! Especially as a person who recently moved from the PNW to the Southeastern US (where I grew up). I skied and studied snow like it was my job in Washington state (and sometimes it was!). Even just creeping around the snowy mountains in my truck when I was too tired to ski or snowshoe or climb anymore is a pastime I’m longing for.
    Have you read Snowstruck by Jill Fredston? I highly recommend it, especially as a fellow lover of the cold white stuff. Cheers!

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