LILLEHAMMER, NORWAY — TWO years ago, a neighbor requested that I bring back some rocks collected at the Albertville Winter Olympics in the French Alps.
This time, he didn't ask for any new additions to his bonsai garden. It's probably a good thing, because loose rocks are hard to find. There is too much snow on them.
One presumably would expect this of the most northern Winter Olympics ever, yet four of the past five winters in Norway have been warm and dry.
As in other parts of the world, though, the snow is piling up in near-record amounts here.
Before the Games, more than 50 inches of snow were on the ground, and it is practically certain that this will surpass the Great Winter of 1951 when 59.5 inches fell in Lillehammer.
There has been little additional accumulation during the Olympics, but flakes dance daily in the cold, clear air. During the opening ceremonies it came down almost on cue, turning the arena into one of those wintry, water-filled snow globes.
A Winter Olympics should have snow, but there are no guarantees. If my memory is correct, soldiers were actually helping to transport snow to the slopes in Sarajevo a decade ago. If only that occupied them now.
In 1988, the warm chinook winds blowing across Canada's plains brought almost balmy temperatures and a lot of bare earth in Calgary where most of the action was. And in France two years ago, there was plenty of snow up in the mountains, but down in the valley below and in Albertville itself, terra firma was visible everywhere. The last Olympics to match this for overall whiteness was at Lake Placid, N.Y., in 1980.
The blanket of snow definitely adds to the winter-wonderland charm of these Games.
The houses hover under what look like the fluffy goose-down quilts on many of the beds Olympic visitors snuggle into each night.
A drive through town after dark, with all the warmly lit homes, is like a trip down a path lined with lanterns.
Reportedly, a snow-fighting fleet of 240 plows stands at the ready, with a crew of 800 prepared to work around the clock if need be to clear 1,360 miles of roads in the Olympic region.
So far the snow has been accompanied by mostly bearable temperatures, although it has been bitterly cold at times. If it weren't cold, one wouldn't have an opportunity to appreciate the impervious Norwegians, who exude winter hardiness and seem to encourage it in others.
Spanish opera star Placido Domingo, in town to join Norwegian Sissel Kyrkjebo in singing the official Olympic song, ``Fire in Your Heart,'' welcomed the opportunity for an outdoor duet. ``I am not a chicken afraid of going outside just because it is a little chilly,'' the tenor said.
Without the cold, the natives would have to put away their beautiful sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens, which must be selling like hotcakes in the shops that line Storgata, Lillehammer's main walking street.
I admit that, before coming here, I checked the world weather reports for the daily temperatures in Oslo, the nearest major city. But now that I'm here, I've been ignoring the forecasts. After all, these are the Winter Olympics and this is Norway.
So, with no domestic duties to attend to, I've got a new motto: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.