It’s February and I walked by a blooming camelia bush yesterday, the soft pink petals weighted down with drops of morning rain.
In London, it’s 8C / 48F and wet, nearly spring. In North Tonawanda, New York, where I grew up, it’s -7C / 20F, cold and still in the depths of winter for a few more months.
An early spring is nice, but I miss waking up to the windows frosted over.
I miss the sight of drooping tree branches, heavy with a thick coat of snow.
And I miss trudging along the sidewalks, leaving a trail of footprints six inches deep.
Japanese fashion designer Novala Takemoto said, “Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity.”
It’s like that for me; snow falling in silence inspires me.
It muffles the sounds of car tires, barking dogs and sirens. Only the scrape, scrape, scrape of shovels on concrete and snowblower motors can be heard. There is nothing more.
Despite the physical temperature, it brings with it warmth and cosiness: thoughts of fireplaces, long hours buried in good books or laughing in the company of life-long friends over mugs of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
My first word was “nooo” (meaning “snow”) and my birthday falls at the end of December, which, during my childhood, was almost always white. I’m connected to it, yet separated from it now.
As kids, we would rush out to play, building igloos, forts and snowmen (and snowwomen, tigers and rabbits), making snow angels, having snowball fights and sledding.
I took my camera out for a wander one bitter cold January day on a visit back home.
It was the type of cold that makes your lungs ache when you breathe too deeply.
The kind of cold that makes your toes go numb no matter how many pairs of socks you wear.
The sort of cold that freezes your eyelashes together.
And a cold that was so intense my camera actually stopped working altogether until I brought it home to thaw.
I walked down Oliver Street, past the old laundromat, the bowling shop, the pizza joint with the Dali mural on the side. The carousel museum, the tattoo parlour, the fish place and the old 412 diner.
I wandered down the sleek white railway tracks that line the Niagara River. Watched squirrels munch on scattered peanuts and birds flit from tree to tree.
Recently, I hunted down a battered notebook that has traveled across the ocean with me more times than I can count.
Around that time, I wrote, “I’m wearing my mom’s boots, trudging past heaps of snow level to my shoulders on both sides of the pavement. I’m remembering what real cold feels like, the way your eyes water at the corners when you step out of the house, the wind blowing loose snow onto your red face and yet the sun shines in a clear blue sky. Icicles (drip, drip, drip) hanging dangerously from rooftops like long transparent daggers. There is silence in my parents’ house besides the faint creak of the porch swing battered by the wind.”
The snowfall can be endless: a white world, cotton soft and arctic cold. Some days, my brother and I might have shovelled half an hour earlier, but you’d never guess. It’s like the gods are trying to erase the place. We dig it out and they give us another blank canvas, another chance to try again.
In London, I would never sit in the house all day, but some long winter days in North Tonawanda, there is simply no reason to leave.
And so I’d sit and watch the snow, a diagonal flurry, under the heat of my mom’s electric blanket, warming my insides with copious amounts of tea.
Outside the window, branches are heavy, three squirrels dancing and chasing and jumping, knocking off chunks of snow. Benches are buried completely and my dad’s already-white pickup truck is full to overflowing with winter. But nothing really stops there. Not the way the city grinds to a halt in London.
People shovel themselves out of the driveways, crank up the heat in their 4-wheel drives and carry on with their day. Streets are ploughed; everyone has salt, shovels, scrapers and brushes.
I am keeping my fingers crossed that, despite those beautiful camelias eager to welcome the spring, there will be a snow day yet in London this year…and if not, that it will still be there in North Tonawanda, waiting for my visit at the beginning of March. If it’s anything like this photo below that my mom sent this morning, then I can’t wait: