Uncovering memories in the snow

I took a few carefully measured steps in the snow before turning around to see what my footprints looked like. The snow showed me more than I’d expected.

Curiosity had gripped me as I watched the amazing whiteness fall a few nights ago. Something was making me wonder what my tracks look like — that reason for wondering not understood but more of a reflex.

Making the first footprints in the snow has never been my favorite thing to do. The best snow, I’ve always believed, is that onto which no being has trod. When the first tracks are stenciled upon it, a lonely small-animal track making a singular path across the whiteness is my favorite.

Those tracks, beyond answering my unfounded curiosity, would bring a measure of sadness. Normally for me, humans need not apply for the role of making the first ripples on a smooth lake of new snow.

My tracks indeed showed me that my gait was askew far more than some of the odd patterns it had created during earlier years. I was hit by a sudden sense of wanting my damaged tracks to quickly be erased from that natural whiteboard.

I got my wish as the snow fell more intensely, filling my tracks and turning my passage into nothing more than a memory.

The erased tracks reminded me about how snow does that so efficiently, erasing memories of those who only moments ago passed through.

That’s when I started considering how snow, so efficient at erasing such memories, also has created in all of us so many memories that will never leave.

Each of us was the small farm boy who looked from the barn toward the house with Christmas Eve excitement as the season’s first flakes floated onto roofs. The new snow, the boy knew, would allow Santa Claus to arrive that night. All know, after all, that Santa’s sleigh can’t land on roofs that aren’t lubricated with at least a thin layer of snow.

Who among us can deny being part of an entire class rushing to an elementary-school window to gaze at an early winter snow? Nary a soul who has taught children kindergarten through fourth grade can say they’ve never had a moment of losing total control of a class as they did during when those first flakes fell outside of the classroom window.

Teachers also lose the attention of even older students, though attempts at coolness keep students in their seats while their minds rush to the window.

There are moments of digging snow tunnels in snow piled high in farmyards, at the ends of city driveways and along the edges of school playgrounds.

Smooth-edged blocks of snow stacked into snow forts and into poorly-constructed igloos never leave our minds – the walls of which most often turned into protection during epic snowball battles.

Many people recall nearly every being they’ve made with snow, and the realization that the large ball of snow they’ve rolled is too heavy to be lifted upon the even-larger ball they rolled for a snowman’s bottom. Those who can’t immediately remember will have total recall, if given a few moments.

There’s the blizzard of ’78 and the blizzard of ’92 and blizzards of so many other years that can’t be forgotten, with the old-timers recalling those even so far beyond my years.

We know memories of all the snow sculptures we’ve created, often amazed at others having difficulty recognizing our finely-sculpted dinosaurs and fish.

It’s not only childhood snow memories that never leave.

We remember seeing the excitement in our children’s and grandchildren’s young eyes as they crawl onto couches to look out with amazement at the first snow they see. We see their minds frolic in the white fluff and hear their screeches as sleds speed down the sides of our region’s ridges and into the same coulees as generations before them.

We remember days of going to school on cross-country skis and on snowmobiles.

On the farms, we remember every sow that farrowed and every dairy-barn pipe that froze during the latest great blizzards.

In these parts, we tell stories about flying with grace from the ski-jumps that used to dot the northern Driftless Area.

And on the most perfect days, we remember sitting in front of a cabin’s fire, book-in-lap, while watching a snow-globe outside world of flakes pirouette and glissade their way to kiss the soil.

How, then, can the same snow that so readily covers our tracks be the same snow that makes so many memories drift into our minds?

Maybe the snow isn’t hiding our tracks. Maybe, instead, it’s just covering them and other memories for safe-keeping.

— Scott Schultz

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