Last week after the snowfall, I went walking. I always try to beat the plows and the sanders, and for awhile I did. The only sounds were the squeaking snow beneath my boots and the wind soughing. It was just about dusk and a bird or two was uttering a goodnight chirp before tucking its head under its wing. The snow along West Tisbury’s Music street, gleaming under occasional street lights, seemed to me like that “ribbon of moonlight” in the Alfred Noyes’ poem The Highwayman. But then as I ambled dreamily, I heard the rumble of the plow and it barreled down the road driving me off it into deeper snow. The sander followed, fouling the ribbon of road with its brown sand.
I know, of course, that plowing and sanding are essential for public safety, but they make me sad all the same. And so, the next day, seeking to escape them, I set off across a Whiting field. Admittedly, a car or truck had gone before me and left its wheel marks, but the snow was still pristinely white and untrammeled — except by rabbits who had left their tracks and deer whose hoofprints I found now and then. I was pleased that there were no boot prints and that I was the first human adventurer out on foot.
As is often the case after a snowfall, I lost my way once I had branched off from where the car had driven, even though I was in familiar territory. Every now and then, I crunched through a patch of ice into a hidden puddle or caught myself sliding on the ice under the snow. But the sight before me — of an endless white field brightened by brown-gold grass — was just what I had been looking for.
Which do I prefer, the blue sea of summer or white snow extending as far as the eye can see? Both sea and snow, when they are quiet after a storm soothe. Of course a tumultuous wind may have brought the sea high up onto the sand and combers may have thundered and crashed bringing the water in. Similarly, in a blizzard, a strong wind brings the snow and drives it into drifts (not last week, however.) But the ferocity of the wind is easily forgotten once it has abated and the sea is quietly lapping or the snow is softly spread.
When I came in from my walk, I happened upon a Thomas Mann quotation about the sea. “It is when one is worn out with turning one’s eyes inward upon the bewildering complexity of the human heart, that one finds peace in resting them on the wideness of the sea,” he wrote. For me the same is true of snow.
When I quit the snowy field, I was on the Panhandle. Again, it was dusk. I looked up at the trees against a darkening gray sky. The snow, by then, was all gone from them and I was seeing them in all their bareness. In summer, the shapes of branches cannot be seen under their green leaves.
In winter, the elephant gray limbs stand out — some stretching in a gentle way across a road, seeking, it seems, to touch the tree limbs that are reaching out in the same way from the other side. Others, gnarled, look angry at being without the greenery that hides their imperfections.
Which do I prefer — summer days when the sea tends to be soothing and one can find peace resting one’s eyes in its still wideness, days when the sun is warm, the trees leafy and the fields bedecked with wildflowers, or winter days after a snow?
The choice is not easy. But I suspect I lean toward the latter — perhaps just to be contrary, but an untouched field of snow, tree limbs limned against it, animal tracks in the snow, snow-covered roads winding mysteriously, the crisp air of winter, the inviting smell of smoke from wood fires bring me the greatest solace. I suppose I am almost alone, but I have been enjoying this wintry winter.