The Perfect Snow

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I’m both amused and dismayed by media weatherspeak. I’m amused by the hyperbole of Storm Watcher Central and Severe Weather Tracker. You’ve seen the flashing alerts across the screen.

The messengers and their moving maps presume to provide detailed information absolutely needed to save family and property from harm in the face of imminent and sure catastrophe.

I’m dismayed that weather, especially the extremes, is portrayed as terrifying, that storms must be feared and avoided by cocooning ourselves from the elements. How dare nature disrupt all that is sacred — making us late for school, miss work or cancel a trip to the mall because of heavy rain or a blanket of snow!

The palm readers of isobars are especially strident when winter storms approach. Their stern demeanor makes me think that this snow is surely the beginning of the next ice age.

As a naturalist, Weather Central is my front door.

I step outside, look at the sky, and assess the weather first hand. I’ve learned to respect the power of a swirling July thunderstorm and to take prudent shelter. I have respect for howling February winds, but I allow part of me to sense the gale and learn its power.

All winter storms are not demons predicted by the Doppler diviners. Some snows are gentle events that unhurriedly amend our surroundings and beg to be enjoyed firsthand.

The perfect snow begins with a broad, pallid sky. A smooth swath of thickening clouds slowly lowers until it is a canopy of featureless, ashen gray above naked, dormant trees.

Tiny crystalline flakes fall first. They drop slowly, drift through tangled branches and finally reach last fall’s dry, discarded leaves. Forest floor nooks and crannies fill with snow like butter spreading into a muffin’s craggy plane, turning woodland floor from dried-​leaf brown to pale, crystal white.

Layer on layer of snow mounds, and more and more of the landscape vanishes. At the height of the snow, the soft blanket absorbs wind whispers, and quiet fills winter woods.

Finally the snows ends. The land is wrapped in a featureless quilt. Fallen trunks become rounded ridges in a sweeping land of winter-​white plains.

The affair was hardly the raging storm predicted by the doomsdaycasters, but an exquisitely peaceful moment in a season of dormancy and rest.

Paul G. Wiegman

Paul is a photographer, writer and naturalist. Trained as a botanist, he has been active in conservation for 40 years. His photography has appeared in publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic and Time-​Life and Readers Digest Books.

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