Seattle doesn’t often get snow; once, maybe twice a year, a couple inches at a time.
Because the snow is so rare it turns the city into a temporarily magical wonderland of glittering white, the air unusually quiet as the snow absorbs any ambient sounds, the familiar streets and buildings suddenly mysterious with their frosty coating. People awaken to this fresh, new landscape with the wonderment of childhood, the excitement of a “snow day” in the backs of their eyes; anyone who can calls in to work and stays home. Being the first to leave a set of footprints in pristine snow makes me feel like I’m the only one in the world for a moment. Walking in my neighborhood feels like I’ve been transported to another place; Switzerland perhaps, or Sweden. I suddenly feel the need to be drinking a hot cocoa whilst yodeling from the hilltops. My inner Scandinavian (I have distant family in Norway) peeks out, stretches a little, and says, “Yes, this is how things are supposed to be.”
Alas, it doesn’t stay magical for that long. Life must continue. More than an inch of this stuff can basically shut the city down as buses move to limited snow routes and traffic gets even more congested as cars navigate at a slow creep. Main arterials are plowed and salted but the side streets develop a thick veneer of slick grey ice as car tires compress several inches of fluffy snow crystals into a half inch layer of dirty, frozen water. The hills for which Seattle is known become especially treacherous and many, myself included, find themselves in a neighborhood through which we can barely walk, much less bicycle or drive. The magic becomes mundane and monotonous.
As a college student, the nascent delight of the snow day mutates into the adult realizations of tests later in the week; tests for which I have not had class time to ask questions about due to school closures. I have online homework due for which I also have questions, and teachers who are not the swiftest to reply to my emails. The anxiety of being unprepared looms over me, dripping into my brain like the icicles that have formed on my roof, a feeling as dingy and unappealing as the filthy, churned snow on the sides of the roads. On the second day of no school, I start to feel trapped in my house, pursued by the need to study and increasingly desperate to go somewhere, anywhere, else. I decide to take my chances outside while also giving the dog his morning constitutional.
The brilliant sunlight on snow is blinding and I remember to grab my sunglasses. My footing is mostly fine on the sidewalk but extremely uncertain crossing the streets, which are a rippled sheet of solid ice. I adopt a stiff, penguin-like waddle as I ford my way to safety on the other side; it mostly works. I’m not alone, either, as I meet several other women, all older, also walking their dogs. The sun has only barely started to melt the snow that still layers almost everything, and I get some nice photos. I walk, slowly, with an increasingly bored dog, to the top of the hill that overlooks Seward Park, populated by enormous houses with what must be breathtakingly expensive views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. The sun is too bright to capture the mountain with my phone. I move on.
I return home after over an hour to find that one exam, at least, has been moved to the Monday of next week, and the associated online homework delayed until the weekend. I breathe out. The sun shines; the snow melts. The forecast calls for more snow later this week but for now I can study without quite so much pressure and simply enjoy the view while it lasts.