a cold little gift

Thirty-two degrees and snowing as I waited at the bus stop.

It was warm for snow, although I was bundled up in a black wool coat and boots. The snow came down thick, heavy, and it flattened underfoot without creaking because of the relative warmth. It had just begun to accumulate on branches, giving the world that open-faced-Oreo look you see on Christmas cards.

While waiting, I paced the sidewalk, noticing again as I did that for some reason, when you take your own footsteps backward, the stride length always seems to be a little too stretched, even though it felt natural while walking the first time. It’s just an odd thing I’ve noticed about myself: I know those are my footsteps, but going back through the same steps, it seems as if I can’t keep making the same pace. Although obviously I can, because I have.

I went to stand by the bushes alongside the sidewalk, and I shook down some of the snow, crunching it together so it stuck in a tiny cube. And then I looked closer.

Living in Serious Snow Country, I seldom actually look at snow. It’s something to be shoveled and avoided. But this time, I watched the snow clustering around the branches, and they were big enough that I could perceive flakes hanging from flakes. I shook the branch, and a bunch fell onto my hand.

You could see the individual snow flakes. For the moment, the world was hushed by the falling snow, and I focused on just those tiny blades, those barely-perceptible points. And then the transformation as my body heat came through the gloves, blunted the points, clouded the clarity, and then resolved the snowflake into a droplet the size of a pin-head.

For a minute, I felt just like a kid, collecting snowflakes for the few moments they were allowed to be mine. Sharp ones, fuzzy ones, conjoined ones — here and gone, and all for me because I was the only one there to witness them.


  1. lbdiamond

    Hmm, warm fuzzy feeling…thanks for sharing your experience, philangelus. I know what the perfect snowflake looks like–it’s a great mental image to hold on to. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Scott

    Great image…..and then the bus came ๐Ÿ™‚

    the world as an open-faced oreo…….Mmmmmm. Did you have hot chocolate waiting for everyone back at the chalet?

    1. philangelus

      Hot chocolate was for later, when the kids came in from playing in the frozen white stuff.

      And yeah, I wouldn’t have been so cheerful about things if the bus hadn’t arrived. Snow is lovely to admire for about, oh, five to ten minutes. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. AnotherFaceInTheCrowd

    One’s strides are longer when moving forward because when you toe-off, the arch of your foot works with the leg extensors and the energy stored in it by your heeling-on to spring you forward, which is what makes walking energy-efficient*. You don’t get that forward spring when you’re toe-ing on and heeling off and have to work to swing your leg back to get that same stride. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Ah you were talking about snow. It’s finally gone here and I’m missing it already.

    *interesting thing about human locomotion: for a given distance, we use the same energy regardless of whether we walk or run. Most quadrupeds use more energy per unit distance as their pace increases though red kangaroos do better — they’ve got a much better spring system than we do and use *less* energy per unit distance covered when going fast.

    1. philangelus

      I wasn’t clear: I walked on the sidewalk about 20 feet and left footprints. I turned around and then walked forward, but back the way I’d come, and the strides were a little too long. And since there’s no reason my stride should be longer going East than going West, I’m confused, but it’s very consistent.

      1. cricketB

        When you go faster, like towards a destination, your strides are longer. When you are going slower, like measuring footsteps, your strides are longer. That’s normal.

        1. Ken Rolph

          You can certainly walk faster or slower, but that doesn’t explain the difference between going east and west. What does explain it is the Coriolis force, which is caused by the rotation of the earth. If you are walking in the same direction as the earth is rotating, you get a boost. If in the opposite direction, you get a retardation.

          Perhaps measuring that would make a good science fair project.

    2. philangelus

      Oh, and in my next life? I wanna be a knagaroo. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Well, maybe not.

      1. Ken Rolph

        You probably don’t want to be a mother kangaroo in rainy weather.

        Cause the kids have to play inside!

        1. philangelus

          Depends on whether the earth stops rotating once my son gets out his equipment and labels. :-b

  4. capt_cardor

    I’ve always felt that the people who need to see big miracles are those who can’t see all the little miracles that are everywhere you look.