Today, in search of inner peace, I venture out of my cozy apartment, choosing to risk my well-being against the slippery, uncleared sidewalks of my area in order to enjoy a bit of untouched winter wonderland walking. After all, the people who clear the snow around my apartment do so in a swift, brutal, and utilitarian manner, churning up not just snow and ice but grass and dirt as well. Trading visual appeal, the health of the plant life on the property, and the occasional bit of property damage for speed, they will clear the sidewalks and then scatter mounds of salt until not just the sidewalks but the insides of our apartments are stained white with the remnants of the crystalline anti-ice measure. It will be safe to walk, then, but bereft of the appealing blankness and weight of a fresh, heavy snow. Whatever joy I might have gained will be gone, replaced by sad reflection on humanity’s drive to conquer and removed nature rather than cohabitate with it.
I take careful steps down the gentle slope of a staircase, moving from the hill on which my apartment sits to the level of the slush-covered street, hearing nothing but the grind of a distant snowplow, the cascading slap of slush spraying out from beneath a car’s wheels, and the mute crunch of snow beneath the worn-down heel of my boots. I suspect that my shoes might have given me more traction and, as I clutch the railing to brace myself against a sliding foot, I consider returning for them. My next step makes me glad I chose my boots, though, as my foot sinks through a layer of snow to find a puddle of mostly melted slush beneath. My shoes may have fresh soles, but they are made of fabric and were never intended to be water resistant or particularly warm, much less capable of tackling the complex situation that is a wet snow at temperatures a degree above freezing. The snow has only accumulated this much because it has been falling faster than it could melt, after all.
The next few days will likely bring plenty of running slush intermingled with patches of ice as the temperature restlessly bounces above and below freezing, sometimes so quickly that it makes multiple jumps across the line within a single hour, but for now the ground is firm beneath my boots so long as I don’t step anywhere puddles might accumulate. This is a walk I know well, though, so I can easily avoid any treacherous ground as I complete my familiar circuit. It takes no more effort than walking in the snow ever does, and I find my body taking the necessary care so that my mind can wander more freely. I take a moment to appreciate the effortless division of labor, one of the few times my mind and my body seem to align rather than be at odds with each other, and then return my mind to the world around me.
The snow has been so heavy and swift that the streets are barely cleared. It is still early, yet, not even mid-morning, but the commute of those who must leave their homes to work is over. The roads will be quiet and largely clear for a couple hours before the drawn-out afternoon of heavier traffic that occurs every Friday (as many people choose to leave their jobs early rather than stay until their usual evening quitting time, rush hour is dispersed over several hours instead of being concentrated into one or two hours like it usually is), but there are no plows in evidence, aside from the one I can still hear attending to some distant street, clearly more important than mine. I can see that the lots of the library and strip mall have had received some effort, but none recent enough for asphalt to appear beneath a blanket of powder. Even the tracks of cars are still white and almost invisible until you’re right above them, making it clear that neither salt nor sand has been spread here yet.
That will change soo, though. I can already see a smaller plow parked in the lot further down, the operator attending to the salt spreading mechanics hanging off the rear of his pickup truck. As I walk the block, turn the corner, and slowly lose sight of the parking lot, I finally hear the truck start and the steady scrape of its plow fill the silence left by the disappearance of the distant, much louder plow. I quickly leave all that behind, though, as I turn off main streets and stalk walking through silent, untouched neighborhoods. Even the houses that are normally fighting a constant battle against falling snow are silent and coated in white now. Perhaps the people I’m used to seeing on other such walks are at work. Perhaps they heeded the forecast, that this would be largely done by noon, and decided that this time they’d wait. Perhaps they simply did not want to be up and out making such a racket so early in the morning. My pattern has changed, after all, so maybe theirs has not. I’m out here a few hours earlier than usual, after all.
Eventually, after finishing my walk through neighborhoods so quiet that the only noise to interrupt the beat of my heart was the crunching gait of my feet that had somehow perfectly matched themselves to the space between heartbeats, I arrive home. I am coated in snow, my jacket providing much less protection than usual against the damp, clinging flakes that fell while I walked, but also because I’d walked beneath laden trees that had decided to dump snow on me. After all, it is only in cartoons where the snow is so perfectly in balance with the trees holding it up that it stays in place until something shakes the tree. In reality, that balance disappears a moment after it appears and gravity has its due, often in more frequent, much smaller lumps that have a tendency to fall on people purposefully going out of their way to walk beneath them. It is fun, I’ve learned, to walk through one of these snow drops, even if it does have a tendency to find a way past my many protective layers to trickle down my spine.
I brush snow from myself as I stand on my porch, taking one last long look at the white-coated world around me, and then turn to go inside. There is warm coffee, a cozy blanket, and the drowsy warmth of my office space heater waiting for me. When I am sufficiently warmed, I will turn to work and my daily occupations, beginning the labors of my day. For now, though, I place my damp clothes in the dryer, pour myself a normal amount of coffee in an oversized mug, and curl up on the couch to watch the snow fall through my window as nothing but the hum of the spinning dryer interrupts my quiet peace.