As they do every winter, the meteorologists are teasing us with their "maybe snow" forecasts: A storm is heading our way while temperatures drop, and by morning we may have eight to 12 inches. Then again, depending on how the storm moves, there may be nothing more than a light coating of white.
When I was growing up in New York City, that sort of forecast was cause for fervent wishing by all kids.
"Please let it snow," we wished. "Lots and lots of snow." Enough to close schools. Enough to transform the streets into a pristine white canvas.
When I grew up and commuted to my New Jersey job by bus, I still hoped for snow. It remained an annual treat.
"That's because you don't drive," my colleagues said, while they wished with equal fervor for it not to snow. "And you don't have to shovel it, either," they added.
Finally, I moved to a house in New Jersey, bought a car, and learned to drive it. When the first snow of that winter was predicted, I rejoiced. But soon I discovered what the suburbanites' moans and groans were about.
Our garage is at the end of a long driveway. And snow often means hours of shoveling before anyone can leave home in our car. Once the car is on the road, snow means sliding and skidding around town. It also means frozen windshields, poor visibility, and spinning wheels.
In the city, streets and sidewalks are passable even shortly after a storm: The snow is mashed down by thousands of feet. Not so in the suburbs, where frozen precipitation lingers much longer. I modified my enthusiasm for snowstorms - somewhat.
"Hah," said my colleagues, "now you'll moan and groan just as the rest of us do when snow is predicted."
But somehow that didn't happen. The beauty and peace of those fluffy flakes remain balm for my soul. And when the storm really means business, everything shuts down for a day. No one goes anywhere. We are all forced to halt, to slow down, to stay home and remember that life means more than madly rushing around from one activity to the next.
Shoveling snow is the perfect exercise, I discovered. And the scenery is undeniably better than that at a gym.
My favorite shoveling time is at sunrise, accompanied by the chirps of cardinals, sparrows, and woodpeckers. Slowly, hues of pink and lavender brighten the eastern sky. And when the sun emerges above the horizon, its rays turn fresh snow into shimmery diamonds.
Sure, driving might be scarier than usual, but it reminds me to slow down, to stay calm, to be patient.
Maybe by March I'll join those wishing that spring would hurry up and nudge winter out of the way. But not now. Not today, as I watch the first snowflakes of 2006 drifting languidly through the frosty air.