All week here in New Mexico it has been snowing. The reservoirs are filled to 135 percent of their annual capacity for the first time in years; cars are rushing in long lines up the mountain to the ski basin, which has the best powder in the west, and Pip and I have been out exploring, me on show shoes, Pip on his own four paws.
My garden statue of Roxanne Swentzell’s “Pueblo Girl” is up to her hips in snow and wears a pointed snow cap on top of her head. It seems odd that her expression has not changed; she is as stolid as always even now when her wide feet are deeply covered. The view over the valley to the west is bordered by snow-covered hills, and the horizon is only a slash of light under the lowering clouds. The snow will go on. The Walking Stick Cactus is coated, as is the Agave—it always surprises visitors that the cactus of the high desert, and the high desert itself, should be snow covered. The birds are busy around my feeder, and my helpful neighbor, along with my son, just dug my car out of the trench I carved when, in a white out, I slid off the road.
But there is another meaning to snow: in the valley, a single coyote is howling and I quickly bring Pip inside. He is as big now as a big male coyote, and probably as strong, but he is not a fighter. Coyotes seldom give people or dogs any trouble but there is something in the assurance of that high pitched yell that reminds me that the wild is all around me, even as I sit in comfortable warmth at the computer with Pip, worn out, asleep on his sheepskin.
Writers know this—the threat hidden under the beautiful whiteness. Conrad Aiken called his short story “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” The snow blankets the hidden experience of the young boy, the memory of which makes him dreamy and remote; he will not tell anyone what has happened, and the reader is left to surmise. Some delicious and terrifying initiation has taken place, which the postman’s footsteps, muffled by snow, always brings to the boy’s mind. He will never tell. Finally, he drives away his worried mother by shouting at her that he hates her. And the snow, like the mystery, continues.
My favorite James Joyce short story, “The Dead,” ends with an evocation of snow as the narrator, harrowed by the revelation of his wife’s girlhood passion for Michael Furey, realizes that
Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of that lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and all the dead.
I think we women writers sometimes scant the snow, and the weather in general, in favor of the human characters that obsess us.
Emily Dickinson knew snow, as she wrote in “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”:
This is the Hour of Lead—remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the snow—First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go.
John Keats doesn’t mention snow but his “Ode To a Nightingale” seems to evoke it: “To cease upon the midnight with no pain…”
Snow(rarely) in Aiken’s Georgia, snow in Joyce’s Ireland, snow in Dickinson’s Massachusetts, and now snow in New Mexico—uniting and obliterating.