The Tyrany of Snow

I'm a Southwestern boy. Or a kid of the South Plains. I prefer Summer. Then Spring, then Fall, in that order. I'd leave the fourth option blank if I could.

I don't like the winter.

I do not understand the snow or the hold it has over people. I've only rarely truly wished for a White Christmas. I've had occasion to live in it, ample experience driving in it. I've camped in it and made forts in it. I've had snow ball fights and caught snow flakes on my tongue. And at the end of it all, I still don't understand the love of snow.


It occurs to me that perhaps my problem with snow is really tied to questions of photography.

But later, learning photography, trying to get anything to work in the crisp white was a nightmare. On film, snow either burns too brightly, reflecting all manner of light and making everything else that much hard to capture or it washes everything out. There is a lot of compensation that has to go with taking pictures amid the white stuff.

That unpredictability frustrates me to this day, and now it extends well beyond trouble with photography. Snow disrupts driving and parking and playing with my dog and lots of things.

But I do think it really started with that question of how to deal with snow in pictures.


Okay, okay. I'm not trying to say there's nothing good about snow.

Certainly when I was a kid, I liked snow. Even growing up in Texas, I did wish for it on occasion: just a dusting in my home town could shut things down for days. There was a magic to snow that certainly appeals to kids. Every time there was the rumor of snow, I was sure this time would be the big one: weeks out of school, snowmen at every house. Of course, I also believed I'd one day own a car that could turn into a robot. By and large though, most of us have learned to leave those childish snow dreams behind. Sure, we still hope for a snow day, but aside from that, snow is more nuisance than blessing.

Don't believe me? Come shovel out my car the next time I'm stuck in a drift.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

If you're one of the snow fascists - those folks who can't hear anyone say anything negative about it - this is as close an acknowledgment as you'll get from me that you're not completely touched in the head. Enjoy your hollow, snow covered victory.


Sitting in the car, waiting for the heat to catch up and for the blood and warmth to return to my hands, I wondered why I would have done this. The list of "should haves" and excuses grew out of control, like a bean stalk in a fairy tale
  • should have worn gloves ("But I can't photograph in gloves.")
  • should have brought the 35 mm ("But cold weather is hard on the gears.")
  • should have brought someone with me ("But there's no one here.")
  • should have called someone ("But what to say?")
  • should have called more often ("But who has the time?)
  • should have... ("But...")
  • should have... ("But...")
  • should have... ("But...")
Shouldn't snow, shouldn't winter stop these things from sprawling so?


It feels like people have been extolling the virtues of snow to me for years. It's so beautiful, they say. I think they've missed it. Snow isn't beautiful. Things you can see through the snow are.

There's a difference.

Cover everything in snow, and everything becomes the same white-washed idea. Cover it all in snow and there's no distinction, no nuance: only a blanket of indistinction making the world over in the same bland image. Snow covers us. Snow forces us in. We wait snow out and when it leaves, resume our lives. Imagine snow as a metaphor for anything oppressive, and you're starting to get the picture.

It isn't snow that's beautiful. It is what peeks through that is. Even the most ordinary object, refusing that yoke - that sameness - becomes something more and finds its beauty.

The beauty is in resistance: this is the lesson of snow.


6 Responses to “The Tyrany of Snow”
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Anonymous said...

OK, I admit it, I am from SoCal and I am an utter child when it comes to snow, it is very, very exotic to me. But I hate slush. Hate it.

Good enough snow: here (it melts, no slush), in ski areas, and in places with good plowing systems and where it can stay fluffy and white.

Shockingly bad snow: on job interviews in February when you've flown in from California or New Orleans, and you see weeks of snow and ice mixed with grime everywhere.

At one job interview someone could tell I was a little shocked at the landscape. "I know, this is a little bit like being perched on some huge industrial site in the northern Soviet Union," said he.

December 21, 2008 at 1:08 AM
Anonymous said...

P.S. I meant to say, on this:

"The beauty is in resistance: this is the lesson of snow."

I get it. Like the general academic snow. My first job was the worst, but it was also when I still resisted. I will have to remember that resistance and get back to it.

December 21, 2008 at 1:10 AM
Brigindo said...

I love this post. It is beautiful and dead-on accurate. I've always hated snow (even as a child) and always thought it was because of the cold, the ugliness it turns into, and the inconvenience it brings but I you've made me realize it is the oppressiveness that really sinks deep into my heart when I see snow falling.

So glad I'm living in SouthLite now, where the occasional snow is gone by the end of the day.

December 21, 2008 at 9:51 AM
ash said...

"the beauty is in the resistance: this is the lesson of snow." lovely.

i hated the effects of snow even more than the snow itself: the way it turned every interior into a drippy, dirty, salty mess. the salt actually ate a hole in my doc martens. five oregon rainy seasons broke them in, but two winters up there broke them down. literally.

you're right about the beauty of what peeks out...until the end of the season. nothing could have prepared me for the utter disgust i felt during my first spring. the thaw was here, hooray! but when the snow began to melt, the street became rivers of grey water clogged with garbage. loads of it. people in [regional reference redacted] litter more than anyplace else i've ever been, so spring is a swirling mass of all the cups, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and even used condoms (seriously. ick.) flowing toward the gutters. ugh. that was almost enough to make me want the snow back!

December 21, 2008 at 3:13 PM
ash said...

also: "the beauty is in the resistance: this is (was) the lesson of joe."


December 21, 2008 at 3:14 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Truth be told, the entire post was written as a trail to the end section. I left the apartment thinking about how much I hate taking pictures of the snow, and how that's meant that I have no images of the last two cities I've lived in. And it didn't hurt that I had new neighbors moving in.

As I was driving, I was thinking about how I've almost never taken a photo that I liked that involved snow. Part of it is probably that I've lost a few steps since my regular photo days. But I don't think that's all of it.

It couldn't be that there were no beautiful images of snow. There are tons. But the images never seemed to be just about the snow, but about what the snow tried to take away. And then I started to think about Japanese paintings and how they often use the canvas to imply snow.

That was what I wanted to do with pictures. And then I realized, I'd been dying to write something, and the argument about snow kept running through my head: about loss, about resistance and dissatisfaction, about the unspoken. I guess I'm still trying to do that.

So it's been with a mixture of joy and sadness that I've seen the responses: joy that those humble driving thoughts got any sort of response, and sadness that something like the phrase about the beauty being resistance should cross my paper moments before I found out a friend had passed on.

December 21, 2008 at 4:58 PM