“Smells like snow.”
If you live in, or visit, the Northeast or Midwest or mountain states of the US in winter, you might hear someone say this.
If you have the misfortune (or luck, depending on your perspective) to live in a place where there is never any snow, and you have never visited a place where there is, you will not have had the sensory experience of what the air is like before snow.
The scent usually is most noticeable before the first snow of the season, or if it hasn’t snowed for a while, and there is no snow on the ground at the time. That’s when you notice something’s coming.
It’s clean. It’s crisp, and there is a decided sort of clarity to it, as if it has gotten…thinner, somehow. In a good way. As if you were at a higher altitude. All the junk in the air seems to have stepped aside for a moment, to make way for the snow to come.
And then it starts.
You check the outdoor temperature, so you’ll know whether this is going to be the light, fluffy stuff that shovels aside like a feather, or the heavy, heart attack stuff that could kill you: everyone who lives in a snowy place will know, or know of, someone who died of a heart attack trying to move the stuff. And that includes trying to move it with a snowblower, because you still have to move the snowblower.
If the temperature is near freezing, you know two things: the driving will be especially treacherous, because the snow will be covering ice beneath it, moisture that froze as the temperature dropped, and that you better get your ass outside every two hours to shovel so you never have to shovel more than two inches of it at a time (and risk dying of a heart attack).
We had a snowstorm several years ago that everyone came to refer to as “snowmaggedon.” Sixty mile-an-hour winds that ripped part of our roof off (“hon, what’s that flapping sound?” “no idea – but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out.”)
But the winds didn’t stop Mike from going outside every two hours, all night long, in the raging gale, to shovel the driveway.
The next day, we had to shovel our way out of the house. Couldn’t get out of the garage or the kitchen door without a shovel. But the driveway was easier because the drifts were a foot lower, due to Mike’s determination with the shovel.
The snow by the doors was three feet deep. Not exactly Buffalo or Watertown, New York, but still.
The morning after was bright and beautiful, and we worked together to clear the driveway and the walk, taking breaks to warm up, change gloves or defrost toes.
I will never forget the winter when, the morning after my Dad finally got home from the city, I stood in the garage at the moment the door was first opened.
And the snowdrift on the other side of it was as tall as I was.
In those days, a “snowsuit” was a sort of winterized pair of overalls, with suspenders with metal clips. Just getting dressed to go outside was a half-an-hour ordeal – tights or long johns, turtleneck, sweater, snowsuit, heavy wool socks, parka (for girls like me, with a border of fake wool or fur around the hood), scarf (which for some weird reason we tied around the outside of the parka, where the hood met the jacket, under the chin), mittens (sometimes two pairs, one within the other) and rubber boots or “galoshes,” which weren’t warm enough, but wool socks, two layers, right?
We did things then that are the stuff of parental nightmares, now. I’ll just say they involved sledding. I can’t describe them here because it makes me too anxious, now that I’m a grown up and parent, remembering. I’ll just say it makes me wonder how the hell we survived our childhoods.
But somehow we did survive, and grew into cautious adults who respect the power of a big snowstorm enough to bundle up and get out there and shovel, every two hours or two inches, whichever comes first, slowly and carefully, hoping to avoid the heart attack.
There’s a big storm just starting here, now, and it will affect a huge part of the midwest and northeast this weekend. The kind of storm where you check to be sure you have enough food in the house to get through the weekend, because you ain’t going anywhere til it is over, plowed and salted. And blankets, too – because this one is going to be followed by arctic cold.
There was no snow-smell before it here this time, but when it starts, the air clears, and you hunker down: flashlight checked, phone charged, firewood brought around, iron pot ready for cooking in the fireplace if the power goes out, ice-dam preventing salt pucks on the part of the roof that will leak if I turn the heat up beyond 64 (first time trying those), hat, scarf and gloves ready on the drying rack, shovel and boots ready by the front door.
Wishing you a cleared, heart-attack-free driveway and no dangerous snow-related antics by your progeny,
Your yes-I-pay-someone-now-to-do-the-driveway-but-dammit-that-walkway-is-MINE-snow-shoveling, environmentally-friendly-ice-melt-scattering,