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Wisdom: Lessons from a snowstorm

There is an ancient tradition of learning from nature. It’s why I love walking so much. I’ll observe the formation of ice on a pond; the way two birds call to each other between tall pines; a spiderweb spun across blades of grass – and something will be illuminated.

Two days ago, a snowstorm hit New Hampshire. It started at 1am on Monday night and kept going until dusk on Tuesday. Schools closed. All but the essential staff were asked to come in to work at the boarding school where I live. Local businesses shut early. Snow ploughs fuelled up. People stockpiled salt. Bought groceries. I went to bed excited and also a little nervous about what I would wake up to find. The English girl in me is still getting used to the extremes of New England winters.

But when morning came and when each of my daughters asked me to lift them to their bedroom window to look out at the snow, we were left a little deflated.

Had the meteorologists got it wrong?

Sure, it was snowing, and it had been snowing through the night, but the roads were clear, the earth and trees barely dusted in white.

A storm, I thought, really?

The snow itself was something of a disappointment. Small and swirly and barely perceptible.

Still, it continued to snow. Through the morning and lunchtime, through the afternoon, during my girls’ afternoon naps and the long hours when we played inside. Through supper and bath time and story time.

And then, as we settle in for the night, I had another surprise. A good one, this time.

By dusk, the world was covered. Really covered. The accumulation thicker than I have seen it so far this winter. And it was beautiful: soft, airy snow, light as feathers; snow that shone blue under the darkening sky.

And I thought of all those other snowstorms I’ve experienced since moving to America. The blast and fury storms when snow comes down all in one go in thick sheets. Storms that make the world stop, that prevent us from seeing further than a few yards ahead of us. In a few hours – sometimes less – those snowstorms have done their job. And then they vanish. And what’s left behind? A white covering, sure. Beautiful, in its way – though often icy rather than soft and ready to melt as soon as the sun comes out. And, in the end, less satisfying for its suddenness.

This week’s snowstorm made me think of Aesop’s fable of the hare and tortoise. Of how often I want things to happen in that fast, obvious way that makes a big, visible dent. And if that doesn’t happen, I tell myself that it isn’t real or important. If it’s not a show, then what’s the point, I ask myself?

I look down on that small, swirling, dancing, thin as air snow. I tell myself that being loud is more important than being quiet; that going fast is better than going slow.

But the thing about this week’s snow – the small, swirling kind that keeps going through the night – is that it does have an impact. A huge impact. You don’t notice it happening (that’s part of the magic), but when it’s done its job, what it leaves behind is beautiful.

And more satisfying too. Because you’ve seen the effort and the perseverance. So you trust it more too.

When I relate this to my writing life, I realise that it’s sometimes worth slowing down; it’s definitely worth persevering; it’s worth consistently putting down layers of effort and thought and creativity and love over a sustained period of time. Because that’s where the beauty lies. And the coverage.

That small, dancing, fall all night snow – it gets into every crevice; it leaves nothing untouched.

So, my lesson from this week’s snowfall is this: fall slow and light and long. Don’t doubt when you look out of the window of your life and feel disheartened by how little lies on the ground. Be patient. Wait until dusk. And then you’ll see. And what you see will be more beautiful than anything you could have dream of. ❄️IMG_2478

A view of our backyard after the snowstorm.