Saturday, November 26, 2005

The first snowfall -- Part 2

Remember those cold November afternoons of our youth when we looked up from our desks to see snowflakes falling outside the classroom window. A buzz of joyfulness zipped from desk to desk until our teacher smiled and we took that as a signal that we could crowd to the window sills and feed our dreams of winter wonderlands. It didn't stick, of course. The asphalt in the playground dampened but stayed black. Still, those fat, dancing flakes traced a calligraphy in the air that every child could read -- boots, mittens, snow forts, sleds, skidding in ice, throwing snowballs, making snow angels in meadows of fresh white powder.

The thrill is no less now, sixty years on. When those first snowflakes fall, they excite some web of neurons deep in the brain that was wired in childhood and has resisted every effort of time to erase. And God knows time has done its best. Driveways to shovel. Dirty wet slush. Colds. Flu. Heating bills. Long dark days that seem to start in the middle of the night and end there too.

No wonder we like those water-and-flake-filled toy globes with winter scenes that always seem pristine -- tiny villages, snowmen, Santa Claus -- swirls of immaculate flakes, first snowfalls that never end. Tip the globe, the snow falls fresh, no ice, no slush, no cheerless dark. Those ever-popular globes tell us something about the way the brain is wired, about our ability to forget what we don't like.

Selective forgetfulness offers a release from nature's endless cycles -- seasonal, diurnal, life and death. Mothers suppress the memory of childbirth pain, remembering only the pleasure of new life. When daybreak comes, we forget the terrors of the predawn hours when we lay awake and wrestle with our private dreads. And when the first November snowflakes fall, we put out of our minds the harsh reality of February when we swear that, if it snows one more time, we'll pack up and head for the Bahamas.

And so we shall. But today, the air is filled with whirling flakes. I spread my arms in joyful welcome. The world's globe is tipped. Some wonderful capacity of being alive lets us forget what's coming a month from now. Tip the globe. Tip. Our hope lets us make the world anew.