Winter, Three Ways
A trio of vignettes from a Californian’s first winter.
On the first snow
You know those experiences that make you feel like a kid again? For me, it is waking up to snow. Of course, I’ve been in the snow before, but it has always been on a trip or vacation, a purposeful visit to the mountains, someplace far away where I was in the mindset to expect the spectacular. I’ve never experienced snow in a place where I live. One winter morning, quite unexpectedly, I awoke to our neighborhood blanketed in white. It was so quiet, the snow pristine and untouched. I couldn’t contain my giddiness.
Walking through streets that day was like seeing the whole city for the very first time, my face frozen into a goofy grin. The childlike sense of wonder was strong. It made me remember the days when small average things were mysterious and strange and incredible and magic.
Snow is nothing new to so many people who live all over the world, but it is to me. They say that Zurich city snow is fleeting and unpredictable, that one thing is for certain: it rarely lasts longer than a day. It melts, and then it is just a memory.
Slow down the time
I’m learning that nothing fast happens in the snow. The snow muffles speed in the same way it muffles sound. Silence walking hand-in-hand with the slowness. There’s certainly no rushing out the door, not with the layers of tights and wool socks and mittens and fur-lined boots that I need to pull on and tightly lace halfway up my calves.
No running down the stairs to catch the tram, stairs that in summer or fall I’d take two at a time. With the concrete invisibly iced over, I’m forced to take responsible, measured steps, like a sailor gingerly stepping onto land for the first time in months. I haven’t yet found my snow legs.
And isn’t winter characterized as that long drawn-out season, leisurely, sluggishly, ever so gradually slouching toward spring? So I’m embracing it, the slow gracefulness, the languid pace. I’m reminded to stop and pause, to take in my surroundings a bit more consciously. The snow seems to slow the noise in my mind, allowing me to insulate my thoughts, almost insisting on a quiet contemplativeness. Within the snow, I’ve found the key to slow down the time.
She is just somewhere else
There was an art installation in late January in Zurich Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. A bright, orange orb hung from the ceiling, slowly rotating above a large iridescent piece of gossamer suspended above the floor. The gauze-like fabric was gently undulating from the air coming through the station doors, mimicking the way fog rolls in and out of valleys and between mountains, the sun always staying above the clouds. Always there, but unseen.
One winter week, I waited every day for the sun to come out, each night feeling a little more defeated but hopeful for a new sunrise. Every day, the gray felt a little bleaker, vitamin D just a fond memory. During days and weeks like that, I remembered the name of that art piece in the train station: "Die Sonne ist nicht weg. Sie ist nur woanders." The sun is not gone. She is only elsewhere.
It’s a bit funny, reading these now in February, when the sun has been out for two weeks straight and my jeans feel so loose without the extra constraint of thermal leggings. Winter already seems like a distant memory. The city feels alive. I’m ready to box up the gloves and jackets, greet the sun who was indeed elsewhere but now back, buy plants for the balcony, jump in the lake, forget about the fact that even though I finally bought ski pants we never actually went skiing (oops).
I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. Everyone has warned me of the late-March snowfall. Everyone also said this was a mild winter, that I was lucky, that I brought some California warmth. A bit ironic, given that it has been colder in San Diego than in Zurich these days!
But rereading short little snippets like these makes me happy that I have found writing again. Three little feelings about a specific time and season, that could have easily been packed away with the sweaters, now can be remembered. And it reminds me that as much as I love sharing these thoughts with the world, I write for myself as much as I do for anyone else.