We had our first real snow here in Glasgow a couple of nights ago. The rest of Scotland has been white whilst our city has remained an urban island of brown and grey. My partner Steve and I rushed out into the street at midnight to start a snowball fight that ended in fits of breathless giggles.
The snow has now thawed over most of the country; life is back to normal and people are moving about their lives as before, if a little hunched against the cold.
I regret the fading away of that strange shift, that wonderful something that happens to our behaviour when we have unusual weather. On the first day of really heavy snow, things can feel strangely post-apocalyptic in the sense that the normal behaviour and patterns of people’s day to day life suddenly break down. It is as if a magical regime change has taken place, liberating us all from the grind of daily life. A benevolent, rather gentle anarchy sets in: parents are out having snowball fights with their kids; people gingerly walk down the centre of roads; what cars there are, crawl along and the whole known world is whitewashed clean of its old detail. It feels, briefly, like beginning again – a strange and gleaming newness.
Extremes of weather bring a certain kind of blessing. The heavy snow gives us the opportunity to step outside the normal boundaries of our living and perhaps see other possibilities. We get caught up in the momentum of our lives, sometimes to our detriment; the responsibilities we have can bring us structure and stability but can also act like prisons at times. That balance that we each strive to keep between structure and freedom is often a tough one to manage, and for most of us it weighs heavily on the structure and responsibility side. Come the snow, the scales flip and suddenly there is a wonderful sense of being let loose for just a while. We become like dogs let off our leashes.
We all fit in, to varying degrees, with the expectations of our culture; we all have to eat, we need shelter, and our society expects a certain exchange of labour for these. And yet, I can’t be the first to think that we have perhaps created a system whereby those moments of heady freedom are handed out in the stingiest of rations.
I will miss the snow. It’s a joyful thing to watch how receptive it is to the tiniest shifts in the currents of air, one moment suspended, the next plummeting in chaotic spirals, only to vanish into the ground like ghosts through walls. Watching the weightlessness of snow falling, I feel insubstantial, as if I too could be lifted, carried, perfectly choreographed by the movement of invisible forces. There is a peculiar silence that comes with snow, as if time too were suspended.
As the snow fell, I held out my hand and watched the flakes dissolve within a second of contact, and I marvelled at how such a beautiful thing cannot be grasped or kept. It is not the sadness of transience that snow invokes; there is something more enduring in its fragility. Perhaps it is the relative rarity of the event that intensifies the memory of it, each subsequent encounter building upon the original magic. Its impact is never lost; snow makes children of us all.