The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? — J.B. Priestley
I was disappointed to be leaving my fair city on one of its rare rainy days. I greet the rain the way a Catholic receives a visit from the Pope — I light candles in every corner of my home, prostrate myself before a window, and gaze reverently at the mass of holy droplets descending from the heavens. Soon after lifting from the tarmac, the plane in which I sat broke through the gray stratum of sky to reveal the intense beam of the rising sun. My only consolation in relinquishing the rain was the knowledge that I would soon be surrounded by snow.
As with many things I encounter infrequently, I romanticize inclement weather, associating each type with its polar opposite. Cold means warm, wet means dry, gusty means calm; in my picturesque daydreams, I am always inside, comfy-cozy, and weather is a preternatural phenomenon that happens on the other side of glass.
The first flakes began to fall as David and I were returning to Boston from a day trip to Wayland, where I got to see David’s high school, meet his first photography teacher, and then have lunch at Casey’s, the 10-by-20-foot diner in the neighboring town of Natick that has been serving hot dogs from the same pot of boiling water for four generations, each subsequent Casey having carried on the tradition of slicing the dogs in half prior to serving them to a lady, regardless of her age. By the time we got to Newbury Street, white dust veiled the sidewalk like powdered sugar sprinkled upon chocolate cake.
We stopped at a few specialty shops — one for games, another for chocolates — gifts for the family we would see once we reached my in-laws’ place on Martha’s Vineyard. Each time I stepped outside of the heated car or storefront, I found the shock of cold air exhilarating, the crystalline flecks enthralling. When David dropped me at the hotel before heading down the block to return the car, I could barely see the concrete through the thickening blanket of snow.
I was surprised when Paul and Sarah pulled up in their Audi, rather than their SUV, to take us 20 miles north to check out their new home’s first Christmas tree. The snow had been falling steadily for three hours. Paul said he wanted to see how his new car handled the challenge. Peering out the window as we careened down a lane-less highway, I was reminded of Star Trek, particularly the Kirk years, the DVDs of which David insisted I watch after I had admitted I’d never seen an episode. The landscape seemed alien, as if we had crash-landed on Planet Exploded Marshmallow. Like the red shirts from the Enterprise, those extras that never made it back to the ship, I was soon to learn that like an alluring but poisonous flower, the breathtaking vista only distracted from the peril it posed.
Paul brought us to a suburban restaurant and parked near the entrance. On the way in, I paused to catch a snowflake on my tongue; once inside, I insisted we sit in a booth by a window, so I could watch the small plow pushing snow back and forth to the growing piles that lined the parking lot. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
After dinner, when we left the restaurant to get back into the car, my beautiful ice world revealed its cold heart. The wind blew the snow at an angle; frost alighted on my face, liquefying the moment it touched my skin, sending a chill through my bones. I ran to the car, but David stopped me before I could reach the door. “What are you doing?” I shouted. The snow was deafening, or maybe it was the hat and scarf I had wrapped around my head, or the black night, or the sound-absorbing flakes on the wind.
David had one gloved hand on his face; the other he used to scratch hardened snow from the doorjamb. Following my lead by raising his voice, he said, “I have to get this off, or else it’s all going to fall on the seat when we open the door.” I thought of the figures in all those snow globes and decided the scenes within were not as idyllic as I’d imagined them to be. Stuck outside the car, I felt trapped in my own hellish globe.
My toes burned with cold; I looked down to find I was up to my ankles in the white stuff. “Hurry,” I whined. “I need to get in. Please, just open it!” David, an irritated look on his face, continued to chip away at the ice. My muscles took over, flexing and tensing so that every inch of me quaked in an attempt to increase heat production. Finally, David opened the door and I pushed past him to get inside where I was safe from the breeze and falling snow but still cold as ever. Suddenly, a thunderous grating noise filled the small space. I turned around to see Sarah, still outside, using some kind of stick tool to scour frozen snow off the back windshield. I sat and shivered while David and Paul went to work on the front. All this effort, just to get into a car.
After a handful of unbearably freezing minutes that dragged on like years, everyone was finally seated in the Audi, and I was beginning to thaw. It was after 10 p.m., but at every house we passed, a bundled being was at work, shoveling snow from a walkway or digging out a trapped car. I suddenly remembered my father holding a lighter beneath a key — he’d been heating up the metal so that it would melt the ice that had formed in the keyhole of our VW camper.
Having lived in Alaska for two years as a kid, and then New England, I thought I knew this weather. But as a child, I never had to deal with the relentless reality, never had to struggle to go from point A to point B. I should have realized that all beauty has a price: stiletto heels cause blisters, corsets make it difficult to breathe, and ostrich feathers from my boa tend to stick to my lipstick. So it was that the ethereal panorama of glittering crystals from my dreams made the simplest daily activities incredibly irritating and discomforting to accomplish.
As with most fantasies, the reality simply did not live up. Regardless of my childhood experiences, I was born in San Diego. Sun and surf are in my warm-weather-thinned blood.
Safely back in our heated hotel room, the snow where it belonged on the other side of glass, I contemplated my love of inclement weather. Like the city of New York, I concluded, weather is great to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.