BOS 02 18 2021 doublesize
Overnight last Saturday, large flakes of snow had settled to the ground. With not a breath of wind, the crystalline structures alighted one upon the other. Lighter than feathers in the deep cold, they held their shape, making a soft, fluffy layer over top of the packed snow that had collected before.

When the sun came out, its warmth melted the fragile shapes. The snow sank.

The week before, we had several days of snow and little wind, at least here by the shore. A thick layer had accumulated on top of everything. The spruce trees were frosted with white. Every branch of the ashes and maples held centimeters of snow. The forest looked peaceful, a black and white photograph of trees.

Sometime Saturday night, the picked up. The trees were scoured clean. Snow was picked up and pushed around corners, piled into drifts. I could not tell if more snow had arrived because of the shapes the wind created. The driveway was deep in places, scoured almost bare in others.

Sunday, I shoveled the walkways, or rather I used the shovel to sweep the snow aside. The snow was still light. By Tuesday morning, after a night of high winds, the snow was packed so tight I had to cut the drifts with the shovel and heave it to the side.

We had another kind of heavy snow through December and January. With temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, snow flakes melted together. The snow packed down into a heavy blanket. It took no effort to press the snow into a ball, to collect it into the body of a snow person. This snow was hard to walk in, with every step lifting a mass that clung to the boot.

Here on the shore, I can see boiling clouds out on the water. I don't need radar to tell me that it is snowing in Meaford or, if the clouds are farther away, in Thornbury. Back on the farm, there would be days of bright sunshine at home, with purple grey clouds to the east in the Beaver Valley and to the west, beyond Highway Six. A northwest wind was driving squalls inland, but the shape of the land and shore sheltered us from that heavy, blowing snow.  

Some Februarys, after days of drifting, I remember hoping for sun and warmer temperatures. In the cold, the piled snow is easy for the wind to move. I would clean out the farm lane, and the wind would fill it back in again, sometimes within the hour. A bit of sun would make a firm crust on the snow pack. Warmth would cause the snow to sink and cling. The drifting would slow.

Back to the present. On the morning I drafted this column, flakes of snow clung to the screen of the kitchen window. None was falling at that moment, but the wind was roaring, lifting snow from the ground and driving it against the house, piling it in the walkways I would have to clear again. I could not tell from inside whether the snow was light separate flakes or packed wedges. When I stepped out, I would find the garage door blocked by a meter and half high drift.

So many different forms of snow. I haven't mentioned those strange days when pellets of ice collect in piles on the ground. Or the heavy flakes which collect ice on the way to the ground. These I have learned are called graupel.

I have heard the there are more than fifty words for snow in Inuktitut. I looked and saw that there are more than forty in Finnish and Icelandic. These languages have different words for powder snow, for snow that is pushed by the wind, for packing snow and for snow that melts as soon as it touches the earth. We have slush and graupel, but otherwise we have to add adjectives. As English speakers, we expect one word, snow, to explain the precipitation that winter brings.

Cathy Hird lives on the traditional territory of the Saugeen Ojibway