Thursday, January 20, 2011

To snow or not to snow…

By yesterday lunch, there hadn’t been anything but a tiny snow flurry for three days. As we walked to lunch, I commented that I was getting nervous about no new snow… I had just read about how the 2006-2007 was a low-snow year, and the possibilities that global warming might be responsible for less snow and sea ice around Hokkaido [a 20-year eyewitness account by photographer Kenji Ito, who went with us to the Kurils in 2006]:

But mostly I was just yearning for the clean, white, fluffiness, rather than the packed-down, browning world of old snow in the city.

Besides, it’s hard to walk on old-snow-packed sidewalks. It had been near freezing, so the packed surfaces were slick – last night I went to my knees once, and slipped off into deep snow another time. Many of the snow-packed sidewalks have rises in the middle, where people pack the surface before it can be shoveled, or where small snow vehicles have packed the edges to iciness. Walking on this higher surface is like walking on wet, algae-covered boulders in the intertidal zone. I always advise my students, “Don’t step on the tops of boulders, jam your feet in between them.”

The transformations of the snow creatures

The naturally sculpted snow creatures I have been observing in the trees first morphed into fatter, sassier guys as the big snow went on. Then as the snow waned and the sun warmed, they thinned back out. Many of them dripped icicles and “snow lace.” Some of them went from looking like fall-fattened bears to drooping sloths. The transformations were one aspect of the waning snow and warming air that enthralled me. I’ve taken far too many photos. So now I try some days to leave my camera behind and just look. I imagine I am getting to be a familiar, strange sight to others who walk the main route down through Hokkaido University. Do they wonder what I’m gazing at? Does it cause them to stop and contemplate, too? The other day, one of my colleagues here said “You have a good imagination.”

Who likes snow?

At lunch, I rhapsodize about the snow, and talk about skiing, or just about the wonderful natural snow sculptures in the trees. Yuichi complains about having to shovel it. Yuichiro mentions that many old people give up their houses in Hokkaido because they can’t keep up with shoveling the snow. He also said that the other day, because the roads have been narrowed, etc., by big snow piles, that it took him and his colleagues an hour to go 2 km in a traffic jam in the middle of the day. Better to walk. But watch out for slipping….

I mention a couple times that in the enterprising U.S. of A., we youngsters would seek business opportunities shoveling snow for spending money, and that nowadays there are whole businesses devoted to snow removal. Here it seems still very much a duty of each resident, with the municipal forces eventually cleaning the walks more thoroughly. I do remember, as a kid, finishing the driveway cleaning, only to have a plow come by and make a giant pile at the end….it happens here too.

I am reading the novel (in translation), Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami. I previously read Kafka on the Shore, which was quirky and compelling. I’m not sure why I picked out Dance… as the next one to read, but it starts with the protagonist in Sapporo during winter. His mood is not positive, in any case, so the nearly continuous snowing in Sapporo for him is depressing ---gray, gray, gray.

I find myself exhilarated by the snowing. It’s like going back to childhood. Rather than the gray skies of Seattle winter, I see the world here as bright and white. My ways of dealing with Seattle winter rain and clouds include “allowing” myself to have a fireplace fire if it’s raining (also better for the air). In terms of colors, though, Seattle actually has most winter places beat because the grass stays green, and there are lots of conifers. A contrast, e.g., with my winters in Wisconsin, which were very white [and gray and brown]. Of course it’s all a matter of perspective and mood. Have I mentioned I love snow?


Last night as I left the office I was surprised to go out and find a centimeter of new snow--I hadn’t noticed it snowing from my office window to the dark outside. The snow must have fallen in big flakes or clots because the snow surface was pock-marked; I worried it might rain…. There were still some flakes in the air, though not many.

This morning I woke to thick flurries, with about 10 cm accumulated – hurrah! Walking in was much easier, as the new snow had stickiness to it that kept the slipping and sliding to a minimum. And many of the dingy surfaces were covered again. It’s been blowing, so snow clods are flying off the trees, a small one hit the back of my neck. Three young men walked by without hats, and they looked a bit like snow monkeys with their black hair hatted with snow.

Now it’s partly sunny, but I feel like it will snow again soon. I hope.


  1. is that a space alien in the Alps?

  2. Are you commenting on the great hat I found in Seattle, in a thrift store, of course?! You can't lose me on the slopes, anyway...