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Shadows in the Snow

Elena Carro Photography

All winter, I’ve been wishing for snow in Nashville: the kind of all-consuming, routine-stopping wintery mix that would stop me in my tracks. This week, I got my wish. I have to admit it lingered a bit too long; yesterday I was thankful to see the sun and watch the transformation, however ugly, from snow to sludge. It’s time to get back to ordinary, but I appreciate having learned several lessons along the way.

First of all, I’m thankful I don’t live in Texas: I can’t begin to imagine what Texans are going through. Watching the news reports made me all the more grateful for heat, electricity, and water. Secondly (and less seriously), I’m glad I bought snow boots at the end of last winter: my investment in early spring seemed frivolous then but proved to be oh so wise. As the snow drifts piled up, and I walked our dogs through brutal winds in the teens, I realized that we as humans truly need very little: hot soup, thick socks and Chapstick can make me feel like a queen.

My youngest daughter has a 5 pound “shorky” (Yorkshire Terrier/Shih Tzu mix) named Mabel, and this was her first snow. Like taking a young child out to build her first snowman, I got to experience Nashville’s Snow-pocalypse through Mabel’s eyes. She kept snapping at the air and I realized that her tiny paws were throwing up puffs of snow in front of her that she was trying in vain to catch in her mouth. Frustrated, she stopped in her tracks and yapped at the air. Every now and then Mabel paused, casting her head skyward to catch snowflakes in mid-air.

I became fascinated by the way in which Mabel sniffed furiously at one spot of snow, then began to dig feverishly. How great is a dog’s instinct that she can sense what is lying beneath the shroud of snow. How I wish I could so easily work my way beneath life’s superficial trappings—wealth, celebrity, career, trappings—that glitter in front of me. What kind of world would we have if we instinctively knew where the buried treasures are in a field of snow. A world in which owning snow boots is a measure of greatness.

Around ten o’clock one night I took Mabel on her before-bed walk around our condo quadrangle. The brittle trees were silhouetted against the ivory sky, and deafening silence hung around us like a song in the air. There were already a few inches of snow on the ground, and quarter size snowflakes drifted down steadily—fragile fractals so stunning they were obviously heaven-sent.

This is a walk I take routinely, yet on that night the gas lamps cast shadows normally indistinguishable against the grass. But against the snow my boots and Mabel’s delicate paws made shadow dances that were utterly captivating. Mabel noticed and began to bark at her own shadow—leaping at her alter ego only to have it sashay out of reach. I let her off the leash so she could be freer to chase, to romp and throw herself against the powdery down. Who among us is surprised that there are lessons to learn from the untainted delight of little children and pups in the snow—that the world’s great beauty is there to behold if we do so with their youthful eyes.

Across town, another daughter’s Chi-weenie (Chihuahua/Dachshund mix) danced and pirouetted in the snow while almost 300 miles away in Indiana, my oldest daughter’s border collie bounded up a snowy hill with a grace that put Lassie and her meadow to shame. And, of course, there is nothing to rival our Blue Heeler Reese who, after our walk in the snow, throws himself onto his chair with a heavy sigh that says he too is grateful for heat and blankets. I’m thankful for our family’s dogs and the perspectives they add—wisdom shining from those big puppy orbs.

This week I worked from home, and one day a Zoom meeting was cancelled. “I just want to go sledding with my kids,” explained the person—somewhat apologetically—who cancelled on me. And there you have it: with a big snowfall comes the acuity to reprioritize, to appreciate, to drown out news and work and angst and focus on catching the next exquisite snowflake.

To marvel at the footprints we make and the shadows we cast.

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