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Father reflects on the first snow, and the second

January 12, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, December 18, 2019

Living in New England suits me well. I savor the unfolding of each new season, though I could do without the month when winter sloppily transitions to spring.

With spring’s arrival, tree buds emerge, then blossom, over the course of many weeks, along with flowering shrubs and plants, too. In the summer, the longest day of the year arrives following six months of imperceptible, daily increases – on the order of two minutes per day – of sunlight. Hints of autumn color can be found starting in late August, long before their October peak.

But, winter – more importantly, the first snow – is more abrupt. It unmistakably blankets the ground with softness, clings to pine boughs and deciduous branches in our yard, lines the rails of the backyard fence, hides the wood pile, pens the chickens in their coop where they wait patiently for the ground to be scraped clean, blocks the entrance to our drive after the plow has cleared the street, and sparkles – when the sun finally reemerges.

Snow balls, sledding, skiing, snowboarding, fort building – even shoveling – are more exciting after the first snow, than in March, when we have had our fill.

The fact that the first snow arrived this year on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, in such spectacular fashion that school was cancelled on Monday, made it extra special for our 7th grade Zoe and 5th grade Adam, not to mention every other child in town.

Monday, after learning that the nine inches of freshly fallen snow meant a 5th day in a row of no school, Adam customarily consumed two waffles and an ample supply of butter and maple syrup, then headed out the door at 7:30 a.m. Aside from brief mid-day lunch and mid-afternoon hot chocolate breaks, he came in for dinner after 5:30 p.m., having spent more time in the snow than he would have spent inside during a regular day of school.  Zoe enjoyed inside activities as well as a vigorous ski along the bike path with her Mama (Lori), who enjoyed an unexpected day home from work since her scheduled patients all cancelled.

I was less enthused, however, because the virtual nature of my work meant that conference calls and computer related projects beckoned my attention. So, I worked from my home office, situated in our basement, sulking and irritable for much of the day. By late afternoon, Adam and I headed to a hill behind the local middle school where he carved some turns on his snowboard and I ran up and down the hill and did a few laps in the adjoining field, both for daily exercise and in an attempt to elevate my mood.

As I retired that evening, I conceded that while the first snow had arrived, I was not quite ready to fully enjoy it. Much to my surprise, though, I awoke the next morning to an additional nine inches of snow, and another school cancellation. Adam and Zoe were thrilled with a 6th consecutive day of no school, but I felt I was playing the role of Bill Murray in the classic, comedy film Groundhog Day.

In the film, a blizzard arrives on the heels of Groundhog Day and while others seize the opportunity to celebrate, Murray’s character sours on the turn of events. The next day he awakens to learn he is stuck in a recurring cycle, forced to relive the same day, again and again. Only when he learns to embrace life and commit to being a force for good in the world does Murray’s character breakout of the recurring cycle, and onward with his new lease on life.

So, I was relieved to awaken on Wednesday and find that no additional snow fell while I slept, that schools were indeed open, and that I was saved from a perpetual state of snowy, Groundhog-Day-like-existence. And while I can’t say that I fully embraced this year’s first snow – or the second – the winter solstice is still two weeks away, which means I have plenty of opportunities ahead to try again.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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