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The Seduction of Snow


It’s snowing outside my office window as I write these words. That’s not been unusual this winter: I live in the Catskill Mountains, where snowfall should be prodigious: we have four ski mountains here, after all. Following some distressingly barren years (by local standards), we’re back to our usual snowy ways this winter: 94” so far according to Belleayre Mountain, and even allowing for the fact that that’s probably measured at the mountain’s peak rather than the valley below, I can safely say that we’ve had several feet of the white stuff, that it keeps coming, it’s not melting much, and that if we get much more of it, the school kids will be forced to give back part of their spring break, given that they’ve already used up six of their allotted nine snow days.

Fortunately, I love the snow, as any regular iJamming! reader will be fully aware. And since finishing my book at Christmas, it’s been all I can do not to spend every waking hour of the weekdays taking advantage of mid-week season pass at Hunter Mountain, where the conditions are the finest they’ve been since 2002-03. Sadly for the hedonistic side of my personality, I’m more responsible than that, and am generally satisfied if I can get out for a half-day on a weekday and a full day with 13-year old Campbell at the weekend – though when, as was the case last Wednesday, school is closed for a snow storm, then rather than go through a day’s arguments with the kids over television, computer and Wii usage, I’ll bundle up the entire family, four-year old Noel included, risk the roads in the four-wheel drive (we happen to live in an area where you actually need an SUV), and force them onto the slopes for some character building. I’m sure they’ll thank me when they’re older.

(I am planning a separate story on “skiing in a recession,” as I recognize that the paragraph above might make me sound like I have no financial concerns, which is far from the truth. As it happens, last Wednesday on Hunter Mountain cost the family all of $4. I’ll explain and justify another time.)

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The Seduction Of Snow: Belt Parkway, Hunter Mountain, January 11.

Charlie English loves the snow, too, judging by his book the Snow Tourist, published by Portobello late last year in the UK. So much so that he was able to parlay his enthusiasm, along with the experience of his day job as an editor at the Guardian, into a book contract that indulged what his subtitle calls “a search for the world’s purest, deepest snowfall.” Apart from the chapter in which he confronts his own fear of mortality in the Alps, it sounds like the world’s greatest junket. One of these days, I’ll sell a similarly self-serving book proposal. My hats off to Charlie for managing this one in the meantime.

It’s quite possible that my attention would have been drawn to the Snow Tourist regardless. But as it turns out, the Englishes are family friends from Beverley, the Yorkshire town where I was born. I don’t know Charlie too well – had lunch with him in London a few years back given that another, closer Beverley friend was also working for the Guardian, and suggested the idea, and that’s about it – but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying his references to childhood winters in our home town, especially his memories of sledging on “a famous local hill, Granny’s Bump,” which I can only assume is part of the Westwood as Beverley is generally flat as a pancake. Anyway, as he notes soon after in his opening chapter, such winters have become a thing of the past, the kind that no longer seemed to be with us as climate change kicked in and winters worldwide grew ever warmer.

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The Seduction of Snow 2: A four-year old enjoys his “snow day” on Hunter Mountain, January 28.

And then along came the current winter, the coldest in years on both sides of the Atlantic and one that has brought particularly heavy snowfall to the UK, to the point that London, the city in which I grew up, effectively became immobile yesterday morning, Monday February 2nd. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, after “hearing” of the snowfall via my web front pages, I dug deeper, fully appraised myself of Beverley and Hull’s weather, road and school closures and more, and then checked in on my mother (by old-fashioned phone, not e-mail), making sure she was home, safe and warm and not daft enough to try going anywhere. After assuring me that she was and that she wouldn’t, she reported that the streets were a “winter wonderland,” and photos I’ve seen online have confirmed as much. Indeed, as some of my own pictures recently posted here have hopefully demonstrated, there really is nothing more beautiful than a safe coating of snow on churches, houses and trees alike – all the more so when the sun comes out and reflects brilliantly the billions of Godlike white crystals back into the atmosphere. I use the word Godlike deliberately, because if anything in nature would instinctively make you believe in a higher power, it would have to be the perfect construction of the individual snowflake.

That should bring me back to the Snow Tourist, as Charlie English spends part of one chapter explaining the mechanics of the snow crystal, sadly removing deities from the equation. “Each molecule of H20 can form hydrogen bonds with four of its neighbours, which produces a crystal lattice that, when viewed in one plane only, is six-sided.” Oh well, they always say that God is in the details.

img_5719.jpg The Seduction of Snow, part 3: Mount Tremper, January 19.

And so, instead, I bring you back to the Guardian, where English has supplied some fun facts about British snowfall as gathered in his book. And where Stuart Jeffries – not a columnist with whom I’m familiar – has, this Tuesday morning, published the most lovely of opinion pieces entitled “London’s day of innocence.” It’s all the better because it’s not the kind of writing you expect from a Guardian columnist. Rather than assail London’s leaders for being typically, woefully unprepared for the snowfall (to the extent that all buses were taken off the roads), rather than lament the loss of business or criticize the chaos of school cancellations, he sings the praises of snow and how it brings out the child within.

“Yes, yes, I know so far this article this sounds a little like those photos of the Notting Hill carnival, with a white policeman dancing with a nice old Caribbean lady,”

he admits after a few paragraphs, understandably so given that he opened his piece with policemen having a snowball fight with teenage schoolgirls.

“But, just for a moment, cram your cynicism and yield, as London did yesterday, to the seduction of snow.”

Yes: yield. If you’ve got time for any online reading today, over lunch, tea, dinner, or that hour you take for yourself at the end of the day to hang out at the iJamming! pub, read Jeffries’ piece. When you’re done, you might understand why some of us make a conscious decision to live in a snowy climate, and why others write entire books about it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve work to do. Because the sooner I get it done, the quicker I can get back out in the snow.

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