Lessons from the first snow
No, it wasn't technically the first snow. We'd had a few flurries earlier this fall. Once, a tiny bit had even remained on the ground for a few hours, before melting.
But yesterday was the first true snowstorm, signalling the start of the longest-seeming season in New England. No matter that the calendar says it's a few weeks yet before the official first day of winter. It's cold, it's dark, it's snowed over a foot: it's winter.
When it snows like that--long, and hard--whatever you'd thought to do that day (unless it was to stay home and rearrange your closets) is off.
So the first lesson of the storm is: surrender. You'd planned to do this, and then that, and then the other thing? You needed to do this, and then that, and then the other thing? There was a party Friday night that promised to be fun?
Forget about it. Not gonna happen. Choose something else--something that doesn't involve going outside at all.
And preferably something that doesn't involve electricity. Where I live there are a lot of tall trees, and so in every storm--rain or snow--there's a highly enhanced chance of losing it due to branches fallen on the power lines.
The second lesson of the storm, then, is: dependence. We rely on electricity for heat and light, for cooking, and for many kinds of entertainment (not to mention the solace, distraction, and demands of the computer). We are dependent on the snowplows that come to clear the streets--until then, there's no getting out, except on foot. Because of old back injuries, I am dependent on the guy who comes to plow the driveway, and this time he came late and managed to pile up little mountains in front of the garage door rather than away from it. Hmmm, we're going to have to have a little talk about that.
I didn't think of still another dependence until, early in the afternoon, I got a call from the agency that provides my mother's caretakers. "I bet you thought you'd be hearing from me" the head of scheduling said when I answered the phone. Stumped for a moment, I had no idea why she'd said that--till I realized that of course, the caregiver of the day was probably having trouble getting to my mother's apartment, in which my mother is relatively helpless (relatively, not absolutely any more) without her.
Yet another lesson of the storm is transcendence through transformation. Every landmark covered in white, including the huge evergreens that bow low under its weight; the world is an unfamiliar place of stark, monochrome beauty. It won't last long--the wind will blow the snow off the trees; dirt and dog pee will turn the snow on the ground mixed colors of gray, brown, and yellow. And it all will finally melt, revealing the straw-colored grass beneath.
But for now all this is in the future. For now everything is the whitest of whites.
For the children, since the snow came on a Friday, there's the abounding and surpassing joy of no school. For skiers, the knowledge that soon they can hit the slopes and encounter what in New England passes (or substitutes) for powder.
Back when I myself was in school--on non-snow days, that is--I was fascinated by the group of people known at the time as the Eskimo, and now as the Inuit. I learned of their ability to live in a harsh and challenging winter landscape (so like New Englanders, only to the nth degree), their inventiveness, even the wide variety of exotic games they played.
So I was wondering now: what of the legend of the hundred--or three hundred--Eskimo words for snow? Well, it turns out there are quite a few, although certainly not hundreds. Here are the root words. No doubt you'll find them useful:
qanir- 'to snow'
qanunge- 'to snow' [NUN]
qanugglir- 'to snow' [NUN]
kaner- 'be frosty/frost sth.'
(3) Fine snow/rain particles
kanevvluk 'fine snow/rain particles
kanevcir- to get fine snow/rain particles
(4) Drifting particles
natquik 'drifting snow/etc'
natqu(v)igte- 'for snow/etc. to drift along ground'
(5) Clinging particles
nevluk 'clinging debris/
nevlugte- 'have clinging debris/...'lint/snow/dirt...'
B. Fallen snow
(6) Fallen snow on the ground
aniu [NS] 'snow on ground'
aniu- [NS] 'get snow on ground'
apun [NS] 'snow on ground'
qanikcaq 'snow on ground'
qanikcir- 'get snow on ground'
(7) Soft, deep fallen snow on the ground
muruaneq 'soft deep snow'
(8) Crust on fallen snow
qetrar- [NSU] 'for snow to crust'
qerretrar- [NSU] 'for snow to crust'
(9) Fresh fallen snow on the ground
nutaryuk 'fresh snow' [HBC]
(10) Fallen snow floating on water
qanisqineq 'snow floating on water'
C. Snow formations
(11) Snow bank
qengaruk 'snow bank' [Y, HBC]
(12) Snow block
utvak 'snow carved in block'
(13) Snow cornice
navcaq [NSU] 'snow cornice, snow (formation) about to collapse'
navcite- 'get caught in an avalanche'
D. Meterological events
(14) Blizzard, snowstorm
pirta 'blizzard, snowstorm'
pircir- 'to blizzard'
pirtuk 'blizzard, snowstorm'
(15) Severe blizzard
cellallir-, cellarrlir- 'to snow heavily'
pir(e)t(e)pag- 'to blizzard severely'
pirrelvag- 'to blizzard severely'
And now I do believe it's time to go out and play.