Siggy loves the snow. On our morning walks he bounds out to the limits of his leash, snapping at the ground, biting mouthfuls of the powder, ultimately coming up for air with a dusting of white on his worn-leather nose, until it’s hard to tell where dog ends and snow begins.
I never expected Siggy to love the snow so much. Bred in Georgia, he didn’t see snow until we moved to Germany shortly before his fourth birthday. But love it he does, his normally neurotic personality melting into playfulness and anticipation as the ground slowly turns white. Snow days are the best days for him, and he can barely contain himself as he waits by the door for me to pull on snow boots and other winter gear. “Come on, Mom!” he seems to whine, unable to sit still long enough for me to put on the layers. Then we are out into a winter wonderland, our footsteps crunching around the lake as he immerses himself in a world of crisp, cold smells and sounds – the ice, the ducks in the pond, the gulls overhead – and for a moment I can appreciate his joy.
I can remember what it was like to love the snow. As a child I was as excited as my shepherd is now, barely containing my elation over the radio voice announcing school closings. Snow days were the best days for me, too, then – days of bus rides avoided and responsibilities postponed, the entire day stretching out before me in a wide expanse of white snow, the hill behind my house calling for me to find whatever makeshift sled was available and ride, breathlessly plunging into banks of soft weeds and drifts at the bottom. Snow days meant snow cream, Mom mixing the newly-fallen powder with milk, sugar, and vanilla into a treat you couldn’t find in any grocery. Snow days meant curling up in front of the TV with hot chocolate and sausage balls, the normal routine of rushing to get ready for school and work replaced with morning cartoons and peeking out frosted windows in our pajamas. Snow days meant snow forts and neighborhood snowball fights, where the whole gang would mark out our wide front yard into “your side” and “my side” and we would defend our territory with snow and ice and laughter and squeals until called inside too soon, with red noses and snowflake-covered eyelashes, to thaw ourselves in front of the wood stove, hunting for old coat hangers and bags of marshmallows to make S’mores while our clothes dried, before bundling back up and rushing out to do it all again while there was still light in the sky.
Over the years snow days have come to hold a completely different type of anticipation for me. Snowball fights and snow forts have been replaced by shoveling the walk and scraping the car; the thrill of school cancellations replaced by the dread of driving to work in treacherous conditions. Here in northern Germany school is only rarely cancelled due to snow – typically only if the snowstorm is so bad the whole city is forced to shut down, a dire circumstance indeed, and one I have only seen once in the past five years here. More likely is that I will have to make my way through, leaving early enough to get everyone to their destinations on time and safely despite the weather. Snow days now mean a runny nose, fogged glasses, and “hat head” as I bundle up between classes to trudge across campus, the snow offering all the difficulty of walking through beach sand with none of the benefits. The frigid wind crossing the peninsula brings with it the damp of the ocean, sending the snow sideways into my collar, sandblasting my face as I try to turn aside, causing my breath to catch in my throat and my eyes to water. Definitely not the snow days of my youth.
Nowadays I complain about the snow. I sit bundled up in my too-cold living room, grumbling about the short days and the condensation on the windows and the wind howling. I clutch my coffee mug and dread heading out to face path shoveling and car scraping, knowing I will simultaneously sweat and freeze, layers only half-protecting against the snow and wind. I bark at the dog as he whines to go out, grumpy despite realizing that his needs are not dictated by thermometer or wind gauge.
It is 5:30 on a wintry Tuesday morning, and Siggy and I are up for his early walk. The snow lies heavy in the yard where the overnight storm has blown drifts against the hedges. The bitter cold stings my face, but everything is still and quiet in the pre-dawn half-light. Siggy bounds ahead to greet the snowdrifts, snatching up mouthfuls of white in his excitement. As I follow, the snow crunches beneath my feet, and I feel like an explorer blazing a trail across the unmarked wilderness. Robert Frost comes to mind with his little horse and his snowy wood, and I smile. As I watch my crazy, snow-loving shepherd in the pink and gold of the rising sun, I realize that maybe, sometimes, snow days aren’t so bad after all.