too many words by laura lemay


A few years back, soon after we moved up into the Santa Cruz Mountains, I woke up one January morning just before the sun came up, and something was different. There was a strange blue-white glow coming from the windows. I sat up.

“What is it?” Eric asked sleepily.

“Its snow,” I said, gaping out the window. “Its a whole lot of snow.” Snow! In California! Snow! Whole big heaps of it! Snow! On the lawn, in the trees, still coming down from the grey sky in the grey dawn in enormous powwdery flakes.




I bolted out of bed and immediately began throwing on clothes: long underwear, jeans, sweaters. Where are my gloves? Where is my hat? There’s no time! There was SNOW out there, and I had to get out into it. I could not stay inside a minute longer because it had SNOWED!

I grew up in Boston, the heart of New England, where it snows six months out of the year. When I left Boston for the Bay Area everyone I knew joked, well, you’ll never have to shovel a driveway again. And yes, I am thankful for that. I am thankful for the lack of cold toes, runny noses and icy patches on the sidewalk. I am thankful there are no more frigid dirty March days where the big piles of snow and ice sand and dirt on the sides of the road where the plows put them in Decemeber are still sitting, sitting and rotting away like the dirty corpses of Winter.

When I moved out here to the Bay Area, California winters seemed very bland. November comes along, and it rains some. There are cold days, and there are nice days. Then spring comes, it gets a little warmer, and the rains stop. The bay area has more of a quiet slide from the wet season to the dry season, from Summer to Winter without really a Fall or a Spring in between. Sometimes there’s not much of a Winter at all, and I wonder, where did it go?

I’m told there’s a term for this, for us displaced cold-weather folk who miss winter: seasonal deprivation. We miss the turning of the seasons, the clear borders between Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall. We miss the dramatic fall colors, the snows, the first crocus that comes up through the snow in the springtime. And the snow. Always the snow. I told Eric once that you can tell that summer has turned to fall because there is a smell to it. That snow has a smell to it. Eric, who grew up in California, thought I was nuts.

There are some ex-cold-weather folk I know who think I am nuts. If you miss snow, they say, go to Tahoe. All the snow you need, and you can leave it again at the end of the weekend. But its not the same. Going to the snow is not the same has having the snow come to you. It is not the same as waking up in the morning and discovering that the snow has fallen overnight, those heavy wet snowstorms we used to call white christmas storms, that coat the entire landscape with fondant icing and that leave the air cold and still and silent except for a very quiet whump as a clump of snow falls from a branch somewhere nearby. It is always a wonder to me when it happens. Each and every time I wake up in the morning surprised — my god, it SNOWED — and then the excitement — Oh my god, it SNOWED. Each and every time it is like I am eight years old again, school has been cancelled, and there is nothing to do all day but get the sled out of the garage and go out and PLAY.

We get these snows in the Santa Cruz mountains. Not often, just once or twice a year. But the best part of California snow: three, sometimes four days go by, the weather changes, warms up, and the snow melts and its gone. No lingering slush or piles of dirt. No icy driveways or sidewalks. Just enough snow to be a joy for a few hours in the early morning, just enough to satisfy seasonal deprivation for a displaced New Englander, but not enough to be an annoyance. Not enough to require shovelling out the driveway.

This morning I woke up to another snowstorm, four inches of it. I found my hat and gloves and went out and made a snow angel. It started snowing again as I wrote this, so now I must go out and spend some time catching snowflakes on my tongue. Later on I have a snowman scheduled, and I must call the neighbor kids and see if I can make an appointment for a snowball fight.

I wonder where in the Bay Area I can find myself a sled.