The Velvet Headphones of a Snowy Day

Well, as predicted, the storm was a comin’, and everything is largely shut down. School is cancelled, meaning we have a house full of stir-crazy children while adult obligations persist unfettered.

In my youth, the snow day was a cherished event, an unscheduled reprieve from the monotony of school. An entire day to play outside, building forts and sledding, with hot coco and bowls of soup next to the wood stove. At least that’s how I remember it.

I also remember the exasperation in my mother’s voice and the glaze in her eyes each time she announced that school was cancelled, and I could never figure out why. It was a snow day after all.

Now, as an adult, I understand that my memory has been heavily addled by nostalgia, and I’ve managed to self-edit some of the more… challenging parts of this experience. For example, the words “snow day” have the same physiological effect on children as a full syringe of adrenaline straight into the heart. They become blurs of color as toys and games erupt from every corner of the house. Playing outside involves first suiting everyone up with enough gear for a spacewalk, during which someone will invariably need to pee. Then there is the constant mediation between siblings over things like use of the “good” sled (even though they are identical), and the inevitable chilly faceplant that will end in tears.

But, while it’s not all marshmallows and snow angels, I still love a snow day. Eventually, children will nap, and I can enjoy the one aspect of my youthful memory that remains unchanged: the quiet.

Rural Maine isn’t exactly “noisy” by anyone’s standards (after we’d moved, I heard an ambulance siren one day and realized it was the first time in six months), but the silence afforded by a proper snow event is ethereal.

First, the only vehicles on the road are the intermittent plow trucks, spraying sand and salt with flashing yellow lights. Second, the snow itself acts like an acoustic baffle in the air, dampening what little noise may exist. There is no echo, no reverb. Voices sound flat and muted, and require enough effort so as to render non-essential speech impractical. It’s as if the world were mercifully bound in cotton, if only for a few hours.

There is also a cleanliness to a fresh coat of snow that I don’t think can be reproduced. It’s fleeting, to be sure, and soon becomes crisscrossed with animal tracks and sled runs and woodland detritus. But, in the peak of the storm, the world is quiet and it is clean.

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