Watching the evening news and the huge white swirl bearing down on the Eastern seaboard got me thinking about how really tremendous our country is. Linked as our chattering hive may be by fiber-optic cables and cookie-cutter commerce, there ARE differences between us that are deep, and real. They have to do with nature.

In California where I live, we fret about browning lawns or if the AC’s going on the fritz; at the same moment 3,000 miles away in icy Atlanta, Raleigh and Boston, stalled air traffic puts lines on traveler’s faces.

Where I live, we dream of the solace of drifting snow and the pleasures of enforced quiet that a whiteout might bring, of slowing down and a kind of hibernation.

Sybille Palmer
Sybille Palmer

We inhabitants of the West coast’s eternal green dream of the joy of a new snowfall, of pulling on a warm cap and tramping into the glacial light, past a snow crusted woodpile, through white fields until dark. We imagine that then our lives would shift; we’d gain clarity and regain compassion. We’d recover those parts of ourselves that have been on the run too long. Under that blanket of snow, we’d configure the many pieces of our lives in a new way.

Our hearts would echo Mary Oliver’s perfect First Snow*:

The snow

began here

this morning and all day

continued, its white

rhetoric everywhere

calling us back to why, how,

whence, such beauty and what

the meaning; such

an oracular fever! flowing

past windows, an energy it seemed

would never ebb, never settle

less than lovely! and only now

deep into night,

it has finally ended.

The silence

is immense,

and the heavens still hold

a million candles; nowhere

the familiar things:

the stars, the moon,

the darkness we expect

and nightly turn from. Trees

glitter like castles

of ribbons, the broad fields

smolder with light, a passing

creekbed lies

heaped with shining hills;

and though the questions

that have assailed us all day

remain–not a single

answer has been found–

walking out now

into the silence and the light

under the trees,

and through the fields,

feels like one.

Alexey Kljatov
Alexey Kljatov
Just as I was writing this, I stumbled on Alexey Kljatov’s stunning macro photos of individual snow flakes. There’s a whole portfolio of them here, as well as the ingenious rig he devised to make them.


You’ll find Mary Oliver’s ‘First Snow’ in New and Selected Poems, Volume One.


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5 replies on “Snow as Transformation, via Mary Oliver + Susan Dworski

  1. I really like Mary Oliver. I discovered that this year, for the first time in my life, my insides did NOT have that excited pull to glory in the magic of the snow drifting down. It’s curious.

  2. Beautiful poem. As an Angelino, though, and a former east coaster, I am never envious of nor yearning for snow. I like to look at it in person for about ten minutes and then that’s it. I much prefer the frosty early mornings we have right now in Los Angeles, followed by warm winter sun and 60 degrees!

  3. Everything in its season.

  4. I’ve been in a funk for a month, and it’s not because I live in the frozen tundra called Minnesota. It’s because on November 21st I stopped receiving my daily boost: the much-loved Improvised Life email. I’ve checked the Spam folder and you are not in it. I’ve tried to re-subscribe, but the subscription service tells me I’m already subscribing, and it won’t let me re-start. I’ve liked you on Facebook. I’ve passed you on to friends, and two of them are now dedicated subscribers. Please let me come back. I won’t make a lot of noise, and I’ll consider re-entrance my Christmas surprise.

  5. I’m so sorry to hear you are having trouble with your email. I am unable to do anything from this end as it is all done through a serve called Feedburner. But I can offer a fix: If you have one of the OLD Improvised Life emails, scroll to the bottom and click UNSUBSCRIBE. Follow the link to verify that you want to do that. It will void your current account THEN you should be able to subscribe again from the website. Please let me know if this works for you.

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