On Snow

The line between middle class American childhood and adulthood can be boiled down to a simple distinction: children play in the snow, adults drive in it.

In snow, children experience a world transformed. The entire outdoors becomes the beach -- vacationy, and pliable in a way that practically demands one embark on various sorts of massive construction projects. One builds castles, fortresses, and large piles of snow that one hopes will eventually look vaguely humanoid ("snowman"). And one finds a whole world of other playing children.

Not that things were perfect in this idyllic "snow day" universe. Boots that were supposed to keep your feet dry rarely worked for more than an hour or two. Same with gloves. And only the most spoilt kids, whose parents regularly took them to fancy ski resorts, had coats really designed for the more intensive kind of rolling around -- sloppy sledding, snow angels, and of course, snow wrestling. The rest of us had feet and hands that were cold much of the time, even freezing. Every so often some extremity or other started to turn a little blue.

But so what? There were huge icicles hanging from the sides of buildings. The trees looked fluffy and a little stuffed, but happy. There's snow...

And what if you're an adult? If you're a car-bound person, you barely feel the difference. Indeed, you hardly dress differently at all. You also probably still have to go to work. If you have a significant commute, or live in a heavily populated area, you are liable to encounter both significant traffic and various kind of stressful road hazards.

Worst of all, the magic of the snow-ified world is more or less lost. Instead of a limitless set of construction projects, one's primary concern is the windshield of one's car. Because of the salt and sand that is sprayed on the roads to melt snow and ice and provide traction (respectively), snow means cars and trucks produce a grimy gray-brown spray that lasts for days after the initial snowfall. For an adult, snow entails no romance at all, and very little pleasure.

By this definition, I myself haven't been an adult for all that long. I went to college at Cornell in Ithaca, New York, which had lots of snow and a huge -- if rather dangerous -- "slope" that one sledded on using trays from the dining hall. (The practice of sledding on "Libe Slope" has now been rendered illegal, I gather...) That's pretty much what you thought of when you thought of snow. No cars to worry about, and nothing to shovel or clean.

And it was more or less still the case in grad school, though I was paying my own way and driving a car, which did need to be cleaned and shoveled, eventually. But what's the rush? After one particularly impressive blizzard towards the end of my time in Durham, four of us built a large, ironic "snow couch" near a main road. As I recall, we also made a little snow TV, and simulated watching it for pictures (I have to go see if I have any of those pictures...).

It was intended as a sort of ironic commentary on consumer culture, though it could also be described as someone's stupid idea (mine?), which was no less fun for being stupid.

And today: driving, grime, traffic. I did cancel my morning class (I still have that luxury), but that's about it. The rest has been the usual grind.

This evening, however, I will insist upon going for a walk, with all the snow gear I can find in the house. (There's not very much -- I don't even really own a proper pair of "snow boots" anymore, nor am I likely to drop $100 on shoes that I will only use three times a winter...)

The sound of adulthood is ugly, but there might still be hope. If the snow is still the right consistency (indeed, if it hasn't already melted), perhaps there will be a snow edifice of some kind constructed by the Singh household tonight? I can't promise an upright humanoid -- perhaps the most that can be hoped for is some kind a vertebrate mammal.