The Prince of a Powdered-Sugar Park
I keep wondering when - or if - I am likely to grow out of this sort of thing. We woke up to this piled world of froth and sugar, and the first thing I felt was pure infantile excitement.
Only later did a conventional touch of maturity suggest that this everywhere-heaping, form-enveloping, twig-balancing, contour-softening white stuff is really a nuisance and may mean jammed roads and general disruption. But then again I thought: Why spoil it? Why not just revel in it? The "emperor of ice cream" (I never have understood that Wallace Stevens poem) has nothing on this.
I suppose it depends on where you live. Here in the Strathclyde part of Scotland - westish and southish - some winters we have perhaps one light sprinkling of the stuff to remind us that it is winter, and that's the lot. There have been years with no snow at all - scarcely even frost.
So when the flakes do descend (as they have more than once this winter) and build inaudibly to something substantial, and then stay around for a while, the phenomenon at least starts out with all the advantages of comparative unfamiliarity.
We even had that rarity this season: a white Christmas. It was actually colder than it has been for decades, and so, instead of degenerating after a day into the usual slush-mush, the snow not only remained, it began to accrue fascinating, glistening, crystalline structures on its surfaces - structures not unlike the strange "crystal gardens" made of chemicals we used to concoct as children, only not multicolored, but ice white.
Things warmed up eventually, but more recently a further snowfall, this time of exceptional depth, fell upon us, and for about a week this also stayed.
The local roads were not plowed for days. I should probably not have driven, as the morning habit is, to the park to walk the dog. The radio discouraged us from all but the most essential journeys. But I like driving in snow and I wanted to enjoy the dog enjoying the snow-filled woods.
There is a hint of husky in this otherwise urban mongrel, and the snow is his element. So intent he is on discovering everything that hides under the white stuff, he wears - with a perfect lack of self-consciousness - a permanent dollop of snow on his nose, like topping on a burnt bun.
There's a wooden bench just up the path from the place in the park where I leave the car and set out on our walks. Like everything else on that first morning, it was transformed by its own lightweight, silver-white eiderdown. While the dog nosed and burrowed, I marveled at the sight of it all. There was nothing to it, a preposterous balancing act of frozen particles, held in suspension by nothing more than air temperature. It was poised on fence wires and the slenderest black twigs.
It was on the second morning that the bench had a personage sitting on it. He was not your predictable snowman, a kind of lumpen man-mountain. He had character; he was a Dr. Johnson with a proud 18th-century belly - but also he had legs. Surprisingly thin, they arched out from him like flying buttresses, bridging the space between his lower abdomen and the ground. I wondered whether they had branches inside, these snow-legs, but it would be sacrilege to try to find out. Someone had spent hours making him. Sculpture should be respected.
I did, however, feel he could do with some hair. So I borrowed a cluster of leaves from a local rhododendron and crowned his noddle. They suited him. His two eyes, fragments of newspaper, stared at me approvingly.
The third day, he was still sitting on his bench, rotund and self-satisfied. Perhaps he was expecting a bus to roll along - but buses, to my knowledge, have never taken this pedestrian route.
That day it started to unfreeze, and by my midday visit to the park, Dr. Johnson was obliged to get along without legs. He showed no signs of minding this, but continued his vigil with aplomb.
The following morning I found him leaning backward in a dangerous fashion. By midday he had fallen on the ground behind the bench, and by the next morning - snow-to-snow, ashes-to-ashes - all that remained was a low, dusty mound and, near it on the dark, leafy earth, a cluster of rhododendron leaves.
I know, of course, that snowmen are popular personifications of the transient, of that which does not last. This fellow had followed the pattern. In art-world terms he had changed from the sculptural-figurative to the lopsided-expressionist to the bare-minimal to the entirely conceptual.
But what I retain is the first impromptu chuckle that escaped my lips (heard only by the dog) when I first saw him sitting there like Forrest Gump on the park bench.
And a certainty, now that he has achieved the status of a memory, that while snow was his element, what he was actually made of was steaming breath on the freezing air, and a noisy, genial, warm get-together probably, but not necessarily, involving somebody under seven years old. I can't be sure, though. I never saw them.