Look at it microscopically, and it’s all gangly rigid legs, small fragile ice stars that look barely strong enough to hold their form when they alight, much less when the wind rolls them, dry and hissing, across miles of the white plains of the barrens.
See them battering down horizontally, the wind full like sails; go outside and pick them off your jacket and they are only inconsequential melt, gone to nothing before you even get a true clear glimpse.
But when the sun comes out and lights them, still moving, it is like all of the brushstrokes of the wind are suddenly revealed: not solely west to east, but swept sideways in topographical catspaws, fingering in, bringing snow around the doorframe and in under the shed towards the woodpile, small marauding drifts that know they can’t win but march on anyway.
For a moment or two, you can see the fine, sun-lit snow hanging in the wind and inking its currents, showing hidden eddy and twist and quickly running wind devils, before it realizes, all lies down in its own cover and simply disappears.
Overnight, the paths to the shed and the road fill in with tight, flour-packed remnants, fragments, and once the paths are filled, the snow shoots across for longer distances, seeking impediments to pile against, to topple into, to fill and level and hide.
Shovel it clear, and in the time it takes to burn precisely one load of wood in the wood stove, half of the path has filled in level again and the leading edge is moving towards the house with clear purpose; erase unnatural construction, show who’s really boss.
There is a spot where, for no reason, the wind is forming a sharp-edged escarpment, high enough to cast a blue shadow in the winter sunlight and against the bright-white of the other, more sun-struck snow.
The escarpment runs from the side of the house towards the fence, and even looking out the window at it makes you imagine that you’re 10,000 feet in the air, looking down on some huge geological feature, a feature whose cause and pattern lies hidden in any number of complex equations of physics and chemistry and planar geometry. The snow has sheered there along an inexplicable rift, shifting back and forth along a line drawn by no obvious feature.
Not like the other side of the house, where 10 or 15 stubborn stalks of bachelor’s buttons have kept their tight brown seedpods up, those few stalks slowing the snow and tumbling it on itself so that a drift has formed from nothing more complicated than simple drag.
Somewhere, there is a co-efficient for that, a calculation that would take high-end complex and interrelated equations, a diagram of competing forces from friction to discrete and changing angles of the approach of force and its sudden unexpected decay, but it is something the wind has managed to perform absent-mindedly while on its deliberate way to somewhere else.
All the calculation would be wasted, anyway: the wind has no time for architects or planners or engineers.
It’s not waiting for the schematics or considering the lines that bear load.
Its constructions are simple and endless and depending more than anything else on the twin degrees: those of temperature and applied geometry.
The bachelor’s buttons have served their role: they started a drift that now runs in another direction, a direction independent of their cause but now caused by their effect.
And this is more than simply work-to-rule snow engineers carving the equivalent of cookie-cutter apartment blocks.
All of the mechanics are hardly artless. All of it drawn in subtle paints whose colour palette moves from bright white to evening’s fine, almost Wedgewood blue. Curve and whorl and lip appear and hang as magically as sculpture. Everything as unique as its individual composite flakes.
All of it as transitory as walking the line between the positive and the negative.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.