Story last updated at 11/18/2009 - 11:59 am
It's amazing what a fresh coat of snow will do to enhance our awareness of movement. Even the slightest breeze can be spotted from miles away as snow falls from trees and leaps off mountaintops. I lose hours during Juneau winters while observing the power of air currents as they send snow from the tops of our surrounding mountains flying hundreds of feet in the air. I often wonder where the blown snow lands. Perhaps it falls on me as I stand below.
Snow helps us to remember where we have come from and lets us know where others have gone. On a Saturday hike up Perseverance Trail, I was greeted by hundreds of footprints-human and otherwise-of those who had gone before. The marks gave me comfort that even though I was going solo, I was far from being alone.
In addition to keeping track of our steps, snow helps us forget about what lies beneath. Within minutes of the beginning of a snowstorm, all of our street litter, dead foliage and animal leavings are suddenly covered by a layer of pureness. With it comes a valid excuse to put off the rest of the yard work until next year, and we find ourselves spending much more time staring out the windows.
With frozen terrain, our bodies behave in an entirely new way. We take each step with more caution, never sure when we may hit that slippery spot that could bring an untimely lesson in humility.
We conduct our motor vehicles with an equal sense of caution-at least those of use who don't have something to prove. My parents used to say that people who drive too fast in the winter must be from California.
But I'll admit, any type of vehicle seems to become a toy when there's a layer of slip on the ground. In the short time I spent running errands over the weekend, I saw a number of cars taking advantage of big parking lots to see how fast they could spin their cars around in circles-they must be Californians.
Some find the parking lot donut obnoxious, but I think it's one of the most important drills a responsible winter driver can perform. When I was first learning to drive, one of the first lessons I received from my father took place on an icy day in the Toys "R" Us parking lot in Anchorage. Those "brodies," as they are called, must have instilled in me some winter driving wisdom, for in my thousands of miles on ice and snow I've only had to be pulled out of a ditch once-it was a total fluke, I was literally driving no more than three miles per hour at the time.
Our fascination with sliding on frozen water doesn't stop on the streets. It extends to the forests, lakes and mountains. We spend hundreds of dollars, thousands if we can, on snow gear-skis, skates, sleds and all the trimmings. When we can muster the energy (or drink enough caffeine), we put ourselves through some of the most extreme physical exertion and often in harm's way to get high on everyone's favorite white powder-snow.
As the seasons change, we change along with them, probably more than we realize. Each season brings different opportunities and obligations. We would probably rather be skiing than shoveling, but there is a balance that we find between the two. It reminds us what it feels like to exert extra effort while simply walking down the way, and heightens our thankfulness for having a warm place to go home to after a long day of playing in the snow.
Libby Sterling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.