He sat in his chair on the patio twirling the drink in his hand ever so slightly, the ice cube tinkling cheerfully against the sides of his scotch glass. If it weren’t for the pool vacuum chattering its way in and around the swimming pool, there’d be nothing but the stillness of the day to share his time and his thoughts with. Another Arizona afternoon was slipping away to dusk, and the pineapple-themed patio lights above him were starting to do their thing, bathing him with their warm, happy glow. On another day, another time, he’d simply immerse himelf in the present and enjoy the serenity of the moment, but on this day his thoughts were very far away – in New England – and his mind was on snow.
Not the light dustings so typical of the Novembers and Decembers of his past, the early winter by-products of so many â€œAlberta clippersâ€ that would sugar-coat driveways, parking lots, and yards, enabling newly-hung Christmas lights to resonate their happy holiday cheer. No, on this day his thoughts were of the first big snow of the season; sometimes coming in late December, but more often than not waiting until after the New Year – the kind of snow that told you winter had begun in earnest, and that a dreaded annual ritual with Old Man Winter had begun anew.
He was thinking of the kind of snow that changed habits and routines, altered perceptions, and forced one to concede to whatever whims and ways Mother Nature had in mind. The kind of snowstorms that brought with them winter-storm warnings, days of endless anticipation and preparations, breathless media coverage, and the obligatory school and business closings. Afterwards, the storm’s work complete, and the once-bare (or nearly bare) ground suddenly and dramatically transformed into a sea of frozen white, there would come the long spells of frigid days and crystal clear, below-zero nights, with more snow and more cold in the days and weeks to come. From that time forward, until the late-March and early April fogs and rains, thereâ€™d be an extra 20 minutes, perhaps more, added to one’s errands and commuting time. And no more firm-footed, straight shots from his parking lot down the hill to the front door, either â€“ there were shoveled, sanded, and iced-over again sidewalks to navigate carefully over, at least until the next brief warm spell or January thaw.
In his mind, he could see the snow falling heavily and purposefully, remembering how heâ€™d anticipate feeding the birds of the season, the snowfall forcing them out of their safe wooded places to visit his deck and feeder. He recalled like it was yesterday how, just before retiring to bed, heâ€™d give the deck one final shovel in his T-shirt and slippers, then load up the feeder and sprinkle the sunflower and thistle seed around. He knew the deep-eyed juncos would be first, arriving silently at the very hint of daylight, followed shortly thereafter by the “chick!” of the cardinals and the “zee! zee! zee!” of the tufted titmouse. As it got lighter, the blue jays would be after the unsalted peanuts heâ€™d sprinkled on top of the feeder seed, followed by the sparrows, whoâ€™d come in waves, making a mess of the whole damned place but providing the mourning doves who would follow with an easy smorgasboard.
More than anything, he remembered the sheer sense of wonder he would always feel, stepping outside for the first time the morning after a heavy snowfall, at the sights and sounds that would greet him. The clouds low and gray, the snow still spitting, the sound of dead oak leaves rustling in the trees, the muffled crunching of cars fighting their way up or cautiously making their way down the treacherous hill outside their front door, the plows working the streets nearby, the snow-blowers hard at work in the apartment complex across the street. And the rituals involved! First, shoveling out an area you could begin to work with, then brushing off the yews on each side of the front door, then clearing a path on the front sidewalk to the street, then finally the long, slow trudge up the hill to the parking lot so you could start working on the cars.
He remembered how the first scrapes of shovel against bare sidewalk would summon their cat Rascal to the couch by the front window. For, while every snowfall brought with it the mundane tasks of shoveling and scraping, for the cat this sound meant play time, and the game of sitting atop the couch, waiting patiently for the first of a succession of snowballs to be tossed her way so she could bat at them against the window. It was a game she relished and never tired of. A tear came to his eyes â€“ how long had she been gone now? Could it really have been that long ago?
â€¦Which brought to his mind one storm in particular: the power had gone out early, and since their heat was electric, that meant getting out the oil lamps, the candles, and the sleeping bags to create a â€œwarm roomâ€ for humans, felines, and parakeets alike. What a different world it was then! First the condo, then the parakeets, then the cats – all once a part of, but gradually replaced through a succession of years, moves, apartments, rabbits, illnesses, deaths, and the purchase of a house thousands of miles away. And it occurred to him at that moment how precious it all seemed now, and how important it was that these times, places, and lore remain safe and secure in his memory, so that he never forget where – or what – he came from.
A slight breeze came up, and the tinking of wind chimes stirred him back to the present. He took a sip from his scotch, noticed the ice had melted, welcomed the familiar burn down the throat. He shook his head and let out a long sigh, giving the ghosts and memories time to recede back to wherever they had come from. Things were good then, as they are now. That’s the gift of time, he thought: its tendency to recollect the good times at the expense of the not-so-good. And there he sat quietly, in his chair on the patio under the pineapple lights, in the fading dusk of another Arizona afternoon, the pool vacuum still chattering away in the growing darkness beyond. But his mind was on snow.