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Violent snow

When I heard that snow was in the forecast here, I sneered. Something called snow has been seen here: early in the morning, dusted like frost on the fields, collected by shallow puddle-basins into white blots.

Nature has instructed my disdain.

I woke to look out on a white world, a white weird and awful as the white hand of Moses. Snow lay thick on the roof, thick on branches, thick on evergreen leaves. Snow had inverted the forest: straight-trunked trees that reach branches up to the sun, instead lay them down along their sides, like fronds of Christmas trees; titan limbs of spreading live oaks that float twenty feet in the air, strong as iron and thick as pillars, curved under the weight of the snow loading their leaves until they arched against the ground.

And the snow was still falling: wet, heavy snow, good snow for snowmen and snowballs, falling so fast and thick that I could hear it. I cannot compare the sound. And faintly, from deep in the woods, came another sound like war guns or holiday fireworks—the first cracks of breaking branches.

Snow on trees.

My last snowfall fell ten years ago: weeks of etherealizing snow on the Pine Barrens, a slow, thin, steady fall like the gradual deposition of a pearl, and still the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

So I put on a helmet, grabbed a camera, and walked out, listening for the warning sounds of snapping branches; stepping over branches I knew only from beneath, over ranks of hedges that lay prone as sleepers after long days.

Snow on path.

Along the way, in the shelter of the Quonset hut, I looked back into the woods and saw—too fast to watch—a 60 foot tree (it must have been dead) simply slide three lengths past one another and disappear like a closing telescope.

Snow on Quonset hut.
Beyond the Quonset hut, the field.

Snow on field.
From the field, back to the house, where disaster had arrived. I lost the stomach for pictures. Each casualty was the same: first, the fatal shot; then, as if in shame of defeat, the slough that sends up a white lace veil; last, so many tons of wood swing or plummet almost silently into the muffling snow.

It went on for hours, snow piling impossibly on the green leaves. It was indeed good snow for snowmen: the snow made its own snowmen over the leaves, half-formed homuncular snowmen without faces.

Hour after hour I watched a day's snowfall work so much destruction that perhaps a human lifetime will not see it all repaired. As after hurricanes, the debris will go, and the summer's growth of leaves will hide the rest. They hide much. The forest grows; wind and now snow destroy; and though I live here, I do not know anymore which is winning.

Three days later, it was warm enough to breed mosquitoes. Ten days later, winter was declared.