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Domestic Bliss

The seductiveness of snow


There's a scene in the wonderful 1994 film adaptation of Little Women where Meg twists her ankle and neighbor boy Laurie pats snow on it before escorting her home in his carriage. When she gets home, little sister Amy swoons, "He put snow on your ankle? With his own hands?"

Marmee interjects, "I won't have my girls being silly about boys. To bed!"

"Everything lovely happens to Meg," says Amy, sulking.

This is one of many collective images of the seductiveness of snow that return to me when storms come. Laurie's hands, Meg's bare ankle and snow, purifier of the universe, covering the Earth, enabling and insulating forbidden touch.

Despite the overly zealous meteorologists' alarm, and their bombastic Storm Alerts decrying the white stuff as a hazardous presence, snow still has the power to enchant and arouse the romantic in us, especially when its presence is unexpected, sparkly and ethereal, as it was here in Colorado Springs last weekend.

In the South where I grew up, it was doubly mysterious and enchanting for its rare appearance. When it came, the world as we knew it shut down and became nearly unrecognizable.

One winter in Memphis, the city was paralyzed by an ice storm, which had been preceded by a good amount of snow. A boy I knew and loved in high school, but for whom I had no romantic interest, came over and we put on as many clothes as we could find to walk in the winter cityscape. Our neighborhood, suburban and laced with wide, normally busy thoroughfares, was scarily empty except for a few cars stuck at strange angles at the edges of snow-drifted ditches.

David led me to a street that ran behind a row of familiar brick houses and down a snow-covered path through tall grass, the seed heads quivering and coated with ice above the white surface. At the end of the path was a barn I'd never seen, hidden from street view by a patch of forest. Freezing, we went inside and sat on hay bales lined up parallel to the wide, open door. Behind us, in the dark rafters, doves cooed and shuffled their feathers.

We sat silently, staring at the glittering white wonderland beyond the barn's packed dirt floor, puffs of condensation forming in front of our mouths in the silent air. At that moment, I was completely in love, seduced by something other than a touch or a kiss -- by a moment of extraordinary beauty shared with a boy patient and curious enough to discover and savor it.

Another snow, 70 miles up the road in Jackson, Tenn., when I was in junior high. I ran with a pack of neighborhood kids, most of them boys, and when the snow blanketed our neighborhood, once every couple years or so, the street emptied of cars and we gathered every sled we could find for a demolition derby.

My house sat near the top of a long hill that eventually emptied onto a state highway. We lined up at the top of the hill, a steering passenger stretched belly-down on the sled. A second passenger ran and pushed off, then jumped on for the race, stacked on top, hands clutching the shoulders below, head down, keeping a low profile for aerodynamic advantage. The object was to knock competing sleds off course and slide the farthest before crashing into the ditch at the lower end of the street.

I was fast and lightweight and not afraid of crashing, thus a good push-off partner for serious contenders. Harry Miller, the most serious and wildest boy in the neighborhood, steered and I clutched his coat, pushing the sled several yards before jumping onto his back and burying my head deep into his collar. We steered to the left and knocked off Jim Williams and his partner, then steered wildly to the right to take out another pair. I kept a death grip on Harry's padded shoulders as we corrected to center, then veered for the ditch to stop the sled.

"Jump!" he yelled as the sled took air momentarily, but I held on and inhaled his smoky, sweaty scent. We crashed into the other side of the ditch and our bodies fell apart as snow tumbled across my eyes, into my mouth, down the neck of my jacket.

Harry gave me a hand up and we dragged the sled to the top of the hill, eager to descend and crash, again and again, the rest of the snow-blessed afternoon.


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