A walk in a whiteout

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At this time of year, even those who embrace winter the most begin to get tired of it – the cold and gray, shoveling, shivering, trudging and salt-encrusted everything.

But when a new snow storm comes in, I don’t care how long or cold the winter has been; I head out for a walk with my faithful friend.

The best time of day for this is late afternoon. The light – already thin in the northern hemisphere – gets filtered through an extra-deep layer of atmosphere as twilight approaches,  and the storm clouds give everything a tinge of blue.

Combine that with the hush of falling snow, its creaky protest underfoot and the slight disorientation as it covers everything anew, a walk in a whiteout is my greatest seasonal pleasure. (My dog likes it too.)

I interrupted the reverie of the most recent such stroll with an effort to capture it in photos.

Below: My guide and a length of freshly-cleared sidewalk. A rarity during a blizzard – except on certain streets in my neighborhood, where the residents dutifully keep entire blocks clear from the first snowfall to the last.

The snow – some new, and some left from a previous snowfall – sits on everything. It obscures the true shape of ordinary shrubs and trees and provides a surreal mix of sharp edges and soft curves – a smooth, fragile layer hiding chaos underneath.

Gates – portals to pretty yards and family activity – become lonely, idle outposts. The little piles on posts let you know which way the wind is blowing.

Familiar surroundings that I walk nearly every day close in around me and suddenly look foreign and mysterious.


My friend – driven more by his nose than his eyes – stops to remind me that all the good, interesting stuff is still there, underneath the snow and waiting to be investigated.

With the light at its flattest and bluest, holiday ornaments wearing fezzes of snow provide the only color. (What is the plural of fez?) 

Winter changes perspective and reveals hidden relationships. I tried but failed to capture how things that seem remote or disconnected – like houses on opposites sides of the same block – are suddenly shown to be closely connected.

I look forward to those surprises, and after nearly 25 years walking four different dogs along the same streets, I still find surprising juxtapositions when the leaves come off the trees. It just requires mindful attention during what otherwise could be mindless exercise.

Here, two trees support at least three nests. I’ve seen more densely populated trees in the neighborhood – but they’re only revealed in winter, when leaves and birds alike are gone for the season.

 Even ordinary – dare I say unattractive – structures that typically don’t draw much attention show themselves in new ways. Their contrast with the monochrome backdrop highlights shapes and contours that on any other day would be of little interest. 

And where all else fails, icicles are always worth a second look.

Everything seems to come to a stop during a good, twilight snowstorm. But some jobs still need to get done. Like this lonely construction worker tasked with stopping what little traffic there is on a quiet side street … 

…so the excavators could continue laying gas, water or sewer lines (I don’t know which) at the new home being built up the block.

The house began to go up in November, and the contractor rushed to get walls, roof and windows in place before the first snowfall. The excavators, it strikes me, could have picked a better couple days to tackle their part of the job. 

I always look for vanishing roofs in the flat light of a winter storm.

Drifts encroach on a carefully shoveled entrance, while a patch of shrub – where nobody wants to walk – gets scoured clean.

Fade to white: Three paint jobs look like antiqued color swatches. How much of the difference is in the paint and how much is in the light? Hard to tell at this moment in time.  

Some homes look like they were built specifically to be viewed through falling snow – like the house below. In fact, it was only painted blue last year. Before that it had always been light gray; so it shrunk to less impressive proportions in a snowstorm. (I took this photo on a different day.)

What’s more inviting at the end of a winter walk than home, lit up from the inside, promising warmth, family and a glass of whiskey.   




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