AFTER the first dusting of snow this winter, I thought of the Snow Cat of Central Park. That year a February blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow on Manhattan, briefly turning the city into a small town. Skiers and walkers commanded the streets until the plows cut a passable swath on the main arteries. The piles of snow edging the sidewalks grew to four or five feet in height as hand shovelers worked from the other side, and soon New York was a city again. Except for Central Park.
It remained pristine for several days, the snow brilliant during the sunny cold that followed the storm. Each least branch of the trees was frosted, and the deep snow was marred only by footprints and ski tracks.
Whole families were out, on foot or skis or sleds in this suddenly rural wonderland. Only the buildings towering incongruously around the snowy playground reminded us we were in a city.
My husband and I had taken our three-year-old grandson to the park to try out the new Flexible Flyer. James was bundled in a blue snowsuit that matched his cornflower eyes and reveled in the first real snow he could remember.
We passed a splendid snowman with a dilapidated high hat and a carrot nose. Beside him was a snowlady with a decidedly wasp-waisted figure and a fringe of dried leaves for hair.
And then we saw the Snow Cat. We came upon it suddenly atop a small hill, a glistening white sphinx, all regal head and front paws.
Obviously this was not a casually or hastily made creation. It was a sculpture, formed with talent and skill. The lines of the great cat head were clean and abstracted. The ears seemed alert and listening; the mouth faintly smiling. Small twigs had been stuck in the forward-thrusting paws for claws; larger twigs were in place for whiskers. Were the twigs part of the original conception? Or were the claws and whiskers an addition by a passer-by with a less abstract imagination?
We stood and looked for a long time; our grandson posed by the great Snow Cat for a picture. Reluctantly we left the cat, silent and enigmatic, guarding the path. I returned the next day, half afraid I would find it wantonly smashed; but it was intact, serene on its small hill.
I checked it several times, relieved to see that the elegant cat was unharmed. It just gradually diminished as the temperature rose, eventually disap-pearing unmolested. At last there was only a small mound of snow and the scattered twigs.
I have thought often of that Snow Cat, heartened to know that in this city the apparent compulsion to destroy or deface can be balanced by the desire to create and preserve.