The first snowfall of the season always catches me by surprise. The snow shovels are still lodged in the rafters above the garage. The garden hose is wrapped frozen around the outdoor spigot beside the house. This year our bed-sheet ghost was still hanging in the maple tree when four inches arrived before Thanksgiving. Georgie, our Halloween spook, had been hanging in that tree for two months, and now suddenly he was covered with snow.
"Mom, we've got to get Georgie out of the tree," my children begged. "We're a season behind!"
"I know, I know," I replied. Another breach of season. It happens every year.
Dragging the stepladder out of the garage, I positioned it solidly under Georgie, and then climbed up to snip the old season out of the tree to make ready for a new, colder one.
I hold onto seasons the way a cat's tail curls around its body. I don't let go easily. That's why I get caught short.
One year I left a summer garden's worth of onions on my picnic table, and they too were soon covered by a November snowfall. My efforts to improve that situation were not at all successful. I placed the wet bulbs on top of my clothes dryer to air them out, and after a few weeks, they were, shall we say, onion flakes.
I call this lack of readiness my seasonal lapse, my reluctance to move forward. I drag my feet when the seasons change. That's why I continue to wear bathing suits through the fall - under a sweatshirt. It's why I resist wearing a coat and gloves in October until the mercury falls below freezing.
Then, behold! Spring surprises me just when I'm getting used to winter. We barely take the Christmas wreath off the front door when Easter is upon us. The buds are appearing on the trees, and the birds are looking for nesting sites.
My next-door neighbor left her wreath up until midsummer because the robins had been raising their young among the branches since May.
As I'd pass by her house to get my morning mail, there would be a parent bird darting in and out of Missy's doorway with worms or grubs. Missy's children were delighted by the flurry of activity so close to home.
But absentmindedness has a positive side to it, especially if we're talking about the transforming power of snow.
Nothing changes our property into a rolling sea more than tons of white flakes. The lawn chairs and barbecue grill are three white pachyderms for four months. My garden is so well blanketed that I don't even realize that I am skiing over day lilies and peonies. The wood that was never split and stacked, the stone walls, the sandbox, and the pile of brush we forgot to burn simply disappear.
Snow fills in holes, smooths out bumps, and covers up our neglect magnificently. It blends all ridges and boundaries into one landscape, and joins backyards for miles around. But most of all, it is the great concealer.
So much so that every spring my children are filled with delight as that great white blanket shrinks little by little, exposing all that is buried underneath. That's when they howl at discovering a toy bulldozer left on the lawn five months ago. And there's the garden rake, under the maple tree, just where I had left it when I ran indoors last fall to answer a phone call. It wasn't lost after all!
Who could mind my seasonal oversight when these snow-covered slips reveal hidden treasures?
This delight in discovery graciously takes the sting out of having left the ax in back of the woodshed. A broom handle, the corner of a toy, the top of a croquet ball emerge from under a drift like a dawning revelation.
Where perception leaves off, imagination begins. Objects are always more enchanting when partially hidden than when fully exposed. A spot of red widening under the warm sun in the backyard day after day is a reason for my children to run to the window every morning to see what might appear. "It's a wheel! I'll bet it's Matthew's dump truck! I'm sure it is!" or "Dad, you must've left your hoe in the garden, 'cause there it is!"
Just this morning I disposed of the jack- o'-lantern that's been on my front steps since mid-October. It was about time. We're weeks into winter now, and its face had caved in from a month of frosts and cold nights. And snow. Already, my porch is buried under a tall and graceful drift.
I couldn't possibly be thinking about spring.