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Seeing The World Through Snow-Colored Glasses

As the landscape is transformed by winter, I find myself semi-lost in a familiar place. (David Stephenson/AP)
As the landscape is transformed by winter, I find myself semi-lost in a familiar place. (David Stephenson/AP)
This article is more than 5 years old.

There’s nothing mystical about my life with snow. During the last three weeks, I‘ve the same miseries as everyone else. Plus, special for me; my house is old, my car is old, I am old.

But I cannot ignore a transformation. It began when I found myself semi-lost in a familiar place. No, this is not a dementia report. It's that the uncustomary bareness of my surroundings revealed a landscape I had never seen before.

What had been a featureless highway, a conduit to big box stores, had become a distinctive landscape with magnificent rock outcroppings, graded hills and a grove of evergreens. Slowing down, I saw patterns on the newly fallen snow made by flakes sifting through the trees’ needles and branches; stencils in the snow.

Slowing down, I saw patterns on the newly fallen snow made by flakes sifting through the trees’ needles and branches; stencils in the snow.

The same day, shoveling a path to the bird feeder, my yard looked huge, the surroundings majestic. My yard is not huge, my neighborhood not majestic. But deep snow covered the shrubbery, eliminating the visual interruption of flower beds and paths, and my neighbors’ driveways, fences and outbuildings. My gaze, or my depth of field, shifted. I could see Victorian houses and towering spruce trees blocks away, and an old brick school with a stately entrance and a black wrought iron gate. In the deeper distance, I saw a tiny person with a red hat walking a black Labrador retriever, leaping and plunging into the drifts, a winter scene out of Currier & Ives.

Landscape designers employ the Japanese idea of extending the view by connecting a small garden to vistas beyond one's own. Well, there it was. I was living on an estate, my own Downton Abbey, a few miles from downtown Saugus.

Shoveling multiple times each day, I spent hours in the same places (driveway, porch, sidewalk, front and side yards, and three sets of stairs, one wood, one concrete, one stone), and though continually exhausted and hungry, noted how different these small set-pieces were day by day, hour by hour, even moment to moment.

Craggy windblown snow embedded itself in between rocks and moss in the side walls of old stone stairs, resembling a tiny, perfect landscape made for model trains. A crumbling concrete wall in the back garden formed an armature for a bell-shaped snow mound 20 feet high that after the fourth snow storm turned glossy as porcelain. Mourning doves that usually feed on the ground, hidden from view, huddled high in a forsythia and I saw, for the first time, how slender and elegant they are — tawny and soft gray with delicate markings.

There was avian drama. Sparrows that always scatter when a blue jay comes shrieking and bullying to the feeder dive-bombed the startled jay and reclaimed their territory. Juncos appeared from nowhere and a male cardinal landed in driving snow — dashing, magisterial, and above all, red — and flicked his crest like a model throwing back her hair.

Indoors and out, the smallest things have new appeal...

Some days, the skies were moody and sinister, with an eerie gray-white glare. Other days they were a luscious vivid blue. During my second shoveling of the day, generally late morning, there were often panoramas of fast moving clouds sweeping across a luminescent sky. During my final shoveling at 4 or 5 p.m., I would see sunsets of gold, amber, coral, lavender and mauve, colors that made me think of northern lights or Native American blankets.

None of this has made my back and hips hurt less. This morning, I lack the strength to dig-out my car. But as I sluggishly push the shovel down the sidewalk, a pitifully narrow path, I newly appreciate the world within and beyond the snow boulders. Indoors and out, the smallest things have new appeal: the grape-like cluster of seeds inside a red pepper, the pleasing faded colors of an old carpet in afternoon sun and from my kitchen window, the white hill in my yard that was never there before, glossy as Marshmallow Fluff.

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Lynda Morgenroth Cognoscenti contributor
Lynda Morgenroth is a writer and teacher with particular interests in art, nature and memory.

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