Snowball’s Chance

Toward the end of a winter, once, when I was ten or twelve, I made four snowballs and stowed them away in the basement freezer. It was one of those late February snows that cling to everything and soak up all sound. It packed well. My brothers and I fought running battles half the morning.

I don’t remember what coup de grace I might’ve been planning. Spring came as usual, and then mosquito season, and I forgot all about it until one day in mid-July, when I was helping Mom put up blueberries. As I was making room for the ranks of bulging blue bags, I discovered four globes of ice in a back corner, gray and lifeless. I went up the outside cellar steps and threw them one by one down the back slope into the old vineyard.

What had made me think such ripeness could be saved forever? Someday our memories, too, will turn hard and gray. We’ll struggle to describe the snow to our great-grandchildren. It drifted down from the night sky like flour, we’ll say, or in wet clumps as big as apple blossoms. Up close the flakes looked like Buddhist symbols: little vajras, wheels with six spokes. Each was unique, but in aggregate the snow made us dream of oneness. It gave cover to mice and the ugliest of wounds. Wasn’t it cold, they’ll ask, and we’ll say no—a snowdrift could be as warm as a down quilt. I’ll tell the story of our former neighbor Fred, who passed out drunk one night on his way up the hollow and was fortunate enough to tumble into a deep snowdrift. Only his legs, which protruded from the snow, got frostbite and had to be amputated.

Sometimes a ruffed grouse would burst from the snow right in front of you in the middle of a still morning, I’ll say, half-doubting my own testimony. The snowpack could change by the day and by the hour, and when the sun came out you could see the sky itself in all the shadows, blue, blue.

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