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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, white blots in shallow puddle-basins.

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 hunters’ guns or holiday fireworks – the first cracks of breaking branches.

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

Snow in Louisiana: I had to see it for myself. So I put on a helmet, grabbed a camera, and walked out, listening for snapping branches, stepping over branches I knew only from beneath, over ranks of hedges that lay prone as young sleepers after long days.

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 long dead) simply slide three lengths past one another and disappear like a closing telescope.

Beyond the Quonset hut, the field – white, empty, white. And 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 good snow for snowmen: the snow made its own snowmen over the leaves, half-formed homuncular snowmen, snowmen without faces.

Hour after hour I watched a day’s snowfall work so much destruction that 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 I do not know anymore which is winning.

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