Winter unraveling

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm sitting in shirtsleeves somewhere in Charleston, South Carolina and a few dozen voices on the phone screen are complaining about how cold it is back home. We came here, in part, to escape the weather but in this day and age though you may be able to escape the snow and cold the complaining on Facebook will follow you to the smoldering gates of hell.

In Aiken last night we sat down with an old friend and his family for dinner at a beautiful old restaurant where I was afraid to take off my coat because all I had underneath was a t-shirt and there were so many poplin suits and sensible sweaters in there I'm still not sure we didn't stumble into a JosABank catalog shoot. I showed my friend's young daughter a photo of us all in the snow and she told me (though her dad once lived in the northern reaches of Michigan's upper peninsula) she's never seen enough snow accumulate in her Georgian yard to roll so much as a single snowball. As bad as snow can be, that doesn't sound much better.

The week before, snow fell in our backyard like it did when I was a kid. I grew up with "lake effect" snow that was so much more wet and malleable than the crumbling, bitter dust that cloaks the ground around Detroit. My kids were outside before me that day, and I heard them shout that one word that makes midwestern winters tolerable in childhood. "It's PACKY! PACKY!" Oh, what a word.

"What do you want to make?" I asked. Playing with my kids in the snow is one of the best things in the world. And it had been a few years since we've had really good snow like this, not since we built the Great Snow Troll of 2010:

I think the Great Snow Troll was at least twelve feet tall. We used a stepladder. We did build a more modest snow troll a few weeks ago, but that snow was gross. Just look at it:

He froze overnight and my neighbors had that disgusting thing staring into their back window for a week this winter (which I considered fair punishment for their highly questionable decision to sculpt those distinct abdominal muscles when they brought their own kids out to help). Then they wrapped a scarf around his eyes to make him look like a teenage mutant ninja turtle, which was awesome. The snow we had the other day wasn't anything like that sloppy filth, though. It was Hollywood snow. Bing Crosby snow. My son shuffled under me, between my arms, pushing each mighty snowball with me as it accumulated layer after layer of pure white snow, that lovely crunching groan at the ground and my growing boy in this unknowing hug: Sisyphus &Son, but smiling.

They decided they wanted a horse.

We used to build snow horses all the time, but I wasn't sure if we would be able to build one they could sit on like these kids did three years ago:

But we built the legs wide and strong, and gave it a go:

He lasted a few days, until one of the neighbor boys punched his head off while we were driving down I-75 to a more civilized latitude. All that's left of that day's uncorrupted snow is a patch of frozen slime on the site where that horse stood. Thank God.

* * * * *

We're back in Michigan now and it's trying to snow again, winter's death rattle. It's been a long one here, a winter of quickly-closed doors and forced heat and electric blankets and fantasies of fireplaces, flannel shirts, axes and chopping blocks. It's been an Ox Cart Man winter here: everyone has been knitting or making something all the time, and I've loved this winter of busy hands. My daughter comes home from school and she knits. She knits in the car, bets me how many rows she can get done before we get home and she knits in bed and falls asleep with needles in her hands. She never knits anything for herself. With the rash of winter birthdays and newborn babies that abound she has been knitting gifts and baby hats.

For her own eighth birthday I made her a little leather bag, a smaller version of the one I made for her mom, with pockets for her needles and then filled it with colorful yarn and supplies:

I love listening to her questions to her mother about knitting, all talk of numbers and purls and things I don't understand. She's always learning. She knit one of her friends a little gnome for her birthday. She worked so hard to make it perfect, and even knit it a little blanket with her initial on it:

I was so proud of her. Later she came back from the birthday party a little upset because the gift had been overshadowed by an American Girl doll one of the other guests gave the birthday girl and I had to say, "It's hard to compete with that, sure, but those parents only spent their money. You spent time to show her how much you care and she knows that, and that's what matters." While under my breath I'm asking who brings a $110 doll to a child's birthday party? For my birthday last month she knit me a yarn dwarf that is supposedly Bombur from The Hobbit and you'd better believe that thing has a place of honor right next to my computer. And if she knits me a sweater, you'd better believe I'll wear it even if makes me look like Bill Cosby on his way to Burning Man.

* * * * *

We woke to more snow this morning, but it was gone by the afternoon. The bike tires are all pumped firm and I've been informed that none of their sandals fit. They sit at the window alongside the dog, dreaming of strawberries and scabby knees and the smell of good dirt.