November 21, 2007


The first snow has come, riding the wings of the northwest wind. It was pulled out of the warm ocean to the west and lifted up across the mountains. Now it fights the wind, swirling madly this way and that, skipping across the land to be lifted up again until finally it is caught on a blade of grass or in the lee of a building where it cannot escape. It piles with its fellows, lying sullen upon the ground, bereft of the dancing wind. The grey clouds slide placidly by, indifferent, steadily shedding their burden upon the land.

Two days ago the south wind and the sun smiled across this land. They said their grinning goodbyes and fled in the twilight while the north wind swept stealthily down upon the sleeping cities and towns and farms. It was barely a whisper of a breeze in the fading evening light, but grew in the darkness and dragged with it the uncaring grey sky to hide moon, stars, and sun. At dawn it rattled the trees, stripping them of their few clinging leaves, reminding the waking people winter is come.

The fat squirrels, who just days ago could almost be trampled underfoot with every step they were so many, are now tucked away, snug and hiding from the biting north wind. The world is quiet, but for the wind. People hurry about and do not linger, not where the wind can find them. They seem to be holding their breath as the first snow falls.

The great oaks still wear their crowns of rust, stubborn as only trees can be. The pines shrug with nonchalance as both wind and snow slide through their slender fingers. The maples, birches, cottonwoods, and willows all stand as skeleton sentinels, their naked branches knocking like old bones. The last of the fall flowers, mums and roses still blooming, give up the fight and turn into their winter beds. The happy fountains stand silent and empty and the pigeons no longer wheel in the sky but tuck themselves safely away under eaves and soffits.

It is the first winter snow, the day before Thanksgiving. The people hurry home, trying to out race the wind. They make for the warm embrace of their family home, perhaps where they were raised, or spend summers of their youth, or just call home now because of the people who dwell within. They gather around a warm kitchen with parents and children, siblings and cousins, and tell tall tales of what mischief they have been up to during the fading days of the Indian summer just past. They fight and bicker and tease and ask inappropriate questions about boyfriends and girlfriends and possible grandbabies. That is what family is for, after all.

Outside the north wind runs along the forested river valleys and dances on the open plains. It sweeps the grass topped hills and ruffles the leave filled dales. It carries the scrambling snow and lets it settle upon the land and bites the unwary traveler to drive them indoors, where they should be. It keeps them warm and safe and snug, together with their loved ones, beyond the reach of the lonely night. The wind chivvies them home when they would linger over some unfinished bit of business not nearly so important as the card game for which their fighting great-uncles need a fourth player.

So thank the north wind, as it sends you on your way. Thank the sullen snow for finishing its dance early. Wish the stubborn oaks a good eve and settle around the kitchen table. Smile and laugh and chide those troublesome uncles and hug your family close.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and the first snow is falling.

No comments: