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Snow keeps us in.

As it accumulates all winter long, snow creates a barrier to our whims. Those of us who live in snow country make few impulse purchases. Each trip to the store becomes a journey, a risk that demands a heavy investment in time spent bundling, in slick roads travelled, in piles of snow shoveled, in cold endured. During our winter, it is easier to stay inside, unless we are truly in need.

I was born in Oswego, New York, the unofficial capital of snow country. After I graduated from school, I tried living without snow for years, first in the Tropics and later in the American South. Sunshine became a burning burden, hibernation was replaced with limp sweating spells, and air conditioners' roars became a numbing soundtrack to my life.

I returned to the snow last year, setting up my house during Upstate New York's short, grey summer season. As I cleaned and organized inside, weeds grew fast outside and froze fast in the fall.

Seattle uses its weather as a tourist attraction, proudly promoting its gloomy skies, but the true North American center of overcast days is the southern shore of Lake Ontario. While the Pacific Northwest conspicuously self-medicates with coffee, Upstate New York does not resist its inevitable dark forecast. Here, we allow the clouds to do their work on our minds. We give in to the mist, to the rain, to the darkness. We allow ourselves to be consumed by the snow.

Overwrought winter technology is shrugged off here. Let Missouri populate its roads with sport utility vehicles (you may know them as S.U.Veeees) in anticipation of a freak blizzard. We Yankees know how to use a fish-tail to get us pointed in the direction we want to go.

I have an uphill, unpaved driveway that cannot ever be scraped clean of snow. As a result, it builds up a hard foundation of ice that gets thicker every day until spring. The earth beneath meshes with this ice, which blends into the snow that falls at its top as open, air-filled feathers from the sky. Here, geographical eras are measured in afternoons, and in order to get out of the house, we must carve paths in the fragile sedimentary rock. Its crystals are so clear that at great depths they glow with blue light.

Landmarks get lost in our winter, buried in a solid, drifting ocean. White upon white upon white, the sun comes from everywhere, neither rising nor setting, but fading in and out. Depth disappears before our eyes, playing tricks, leading us to walk unsuspecting into tall drifts, hypnotizing us on long trips, dancing above the Thruway that leads us away from New Jersey.

People from warmer states call their children home from school and buy weeks worth of canned goods at the mere threat of a flurry. They tell us that they can't understand how we live through these winters. We know that already, of course. They tell us that they will never live anywhere where it shows like it does where we live. That's fine with us, of course.

Snow shows us where the inhabitants of the natural world have been, even when they would hide from us. Yet, when we stand for long enough in the falling snow, it disguises us as a part of the natural geography.

The snow limits us. It quiets us. It makes us bigger and curls us up into little balls of warmth. Now provides a new mask to the world as we see it every day.

The snow keeps us, inside.




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