I know snow

As I write this, we are getting heavy snow here. I don’t just mean the rate, either. The temperature is high enough that it comes down pretty wet and clumps up quickly, making for a delicious, rich texture of slush that forms these satisfying cakes over every surface. The way this piled snow reflects light at night makes it look soft and pillowy.

In a week, we might have sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures and low humidity. The snow will have partially thawed and refrozen into an entirely different sheen, one that gives the landscape an intense and alien vividness. I love looking out the window at night this time of year, gathering a sense of the day’s conditions by way of the snow.

Photo credit: Mike McBey

There’s a myth that Inuits have something like 300 (or some other big number) words for snow. This isn’t actually true; it has about as many as any language that has words for snow, and if we’re counting, English itself actually has quite a few (e.g., sleet, frost, slush, powder).

The actual word count isn’t really important, but there’s something intuitive to the idea that people who live among snow would distinguish its varieties. I have lived all my life in a climate with harsh winters, where snow won’t completely melt for months on end. Over that time, I’ve seen so many different qualities of snow and ice that I naturally built up my own intuitive catalogue of them. They may not each have words, but I know the myriad moods of winter weather: how a given pane of ice will snap, what a snow bank feels like to step into, how difficult that frost will be to scrape off my windshield. I think anyone who lives in snow long enough probably knows these things, whether they are aware of them or not.

I wrote previously of wanting to know the place I live more intimately. My understanding of snow is a precious part of that knowledge for me, one that I could’t help but develop, simply through years of experience.

Do you get a lot of snow where you live? Do you have a feel for the different qualities of snow and ice? Do you have this kind of understanding for other kinds of weather? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.