Writing Snow

garden snow

We are not powerless specks of dust drifting around in the wind, blown by random destiny. We are, each of us, like beautiful snowflakes –  unique, born for a specific reason and purpose. ~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

I was woken at an ungodly hour by the arrival of a text message; school was cancelled due to heavy snow. I got up and looked blearily out of my bedroom window to see two feet of snow. I padded into the kitchen and found it eerily bright as I trudged over to the sink to fill the kettle for coffee. Through the kitchen window I saw our ten-year-old laurels bowed down and broken by the weight of the snow on their branches. They’d formed the privacy hedge at my small back garden, and I felt suddenly exposed and vulnerable.

I grabbed a sweeping brush and rushed outside in my dressing gown, trying to save as many remaining branches as I could.

I thought back to old Coaching Moments posts I’d written, phrases I’d used. This is an extract from War of the Words, about the language we use with our loved ones:

I created this piece in my head as I stood at the kitchen window, watching the falling snow bend our trees in the eerie orange glow of a street light in the middle of the night. I’d gone to bed mid-argument, couldn’t sleep, my husband  came to bed, I got up, so I’d decided to go and make some camomile tea. I stood at the window, mesmerised by the swirling orange snowflakes and wondering how something as delicate as a snowflake had the power to bend and break the branches of trees. As I stood watching, I saw one supple branch rebel under the weight of the thousands of snowflakes heaped upon it,  catapulting its burden with surprising defensive venom. I went outside in my bare feet and dressing gown and gently swept the snow off the remaining trees with a broom, knowing it was too late to take back the thousands of tiny thoughtless comments I heap on my husband over the days, weeks and months until he feels he has to lash back at me about my lack of appreciation and my seeming obsession with perfecting details. I hoped I could at least save some of our branches.

In this extract, from Shaking off the Shoulds, I use a snow metaphor to describe the freedom we experience when we free ourselves from the burdens of self imposed ‘shoulds’, and learn to see the world and all its promise  and wonder through children’s eyes:

While I’ve been sitting here writing, it’s stopped snowing and some of the snow has thawed. I’ve just watched a laurel branch bounce back from under its burden of snow, launching it like a catapult.

That’s how I feel as I shake off the shoulds, the rest of my snow day beckoning me like our snow covered front garden, silently waiting to share its treasure when the kids come home.

And in this extract from a comment response I wrote, the snow becomes a symbol for overwhelm and despair as we struggled to dig  a way out for my friend’s car so she could get to her chemotherapy session.

Because of the snow, my friend has struggled to get into hospital for her chemotherapy. That’s helped me gradually regain my sense of perspective. One day, as a few of us were digging the snow from her drive, I felt that if I could just keep digging and clearing until there was a way out, somehow, it would all be OK.

I also used a snow metaphor in The Sound of Music to describe the period of my life when I lost my ‘voice’ and almost drifted into depression:

I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did.  After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.

When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.

Snowflakes are delicate, astonishing things. Every one is unique and fragile yet, silently, just sitting there side by side… still… simply being, their lives are extended and their power is immense.

The polar ice caps are the breath of the planet, a delicately balanced element in the health of the oceans’ currents and conveyor belts.

But snow can also devastate, crush, wreak havoc, block roads, bring down powerlines and sever communication.

Like stinging snowflakes in a blizzard, each unkind word spoken to our children and loved ones, if left unchecked, can pile up until something precious is broken under the weight.

Every sadness we accept with an unquestioning sigh can build up until, without realising it, our hearts are shrouded in drifts of silent, snowy depression.

Every lack of clear communication can lead to drifts of misunderstanding that ultimately shut down all channels of communication.

Every piece of junk mail we leave lying around, every book we can’t part with or memento we don’t know how to deal with can become an avalanche of clutter.

But snow can’t co-exist with warmth, and even if snowfall is inevitable, we can be prepared and vigilant, and take small steps towards doing what we can. I could have brushed yesterday’s first snowfalls off my treasured bushes and small trees. If I had, they might not have broken under the weight of last night’s gentle but consistent snow fall.

We haven’t had blizzards; it’s been snowing softly and gently. But it hasn’t stopped, and that’s the lesson I’m taking away with me today.

One kind word doesn’t build a kind, loving relationship.

One written word doesn’t make a great piece of writing. One post doesn’t make a great blog, nor does one article make a successful newsletter.

One essay doesn’t make a degree, one lesson a teacher or one training course a life coach.

One cleared pile of paper clutter doesn’t let your house breathe.

One beautiful memento doesn’t make a home, just as one memory doesn’t make a life.

But our uniqueness as human beings, the gentle consistent, accumulative power of every loving deed and word, every smile from a stranger, every supportive comment left on a blog, every small triumph, every tip that transforms a life, every photo that inspires, every little success, every step or decision that takes us in the right direction, – they do make a life. A good life. We’re not just snowflakes. Together, we’re snow.

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I’d love to be the kind of snow that makes children’s eyes wide with wonder and Christmas magical. I’d like to be as strong as the kind of snow that supports the Winter Olympics. Some days, all I can manage is grey slush by the side of the road. What does snow mean for you? What’s your unique strength as a snowflake?

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(Update: It’s still snowing, and for the second time in two months, we’ve had about thirty inches of snow. Miraculously, though, we still have an internet connection!)

25 thoughts on “Writing Snow

  1. Thanks for the snippets of Greek, Janice!!

    I’ve always thought of snow as magical…, bringing quietness! But also had snow covered landscapes come up in dreams for year, bringing attention to ” frozen feelings”. It can symbolize so many things, very interesting!
    .-= Maya @ Completely Coastal´s last blog ..Make a Wooden Beach Sign =-.

    • These last five or six years, I’ve associated snow with Christmas and had good connotations because of the kids, but this winter’s been such a horror, I won’t be singing ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’ this year, and if we do get one. I’m putting in an order for a picturesque sprinkling of harmless, dusty snow on Christmas Eve only, the kind that doesn’t lie!
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

  2. I love the format you chose for this post, featuring your own excerpted material. You never see that done. Reminds me of the physician, heal thyself proverb. Or maybe teacher, teach yourself first so that you may then instruct others. There is a lot of wisdom here.

    My favorite line is “simply being, their lives are extended and their power is immense.” There’s a lot to be said for simply being, isn’t there? When we can pull it off, minus distractions, worry and concerns, we experience the joy of being. Joy seems to come in increments though, like falling snow or rain, coming and going.

    I’ve only seen snow a few times in my life. We haven’t had a single flake this year. Other than the August heat and the occasional September hurricane, it’s mostly mild here. A temperate climate is comfortable but big weather is so exciting!

    Janice, you are a master of metaphorical thinking. [What is a ‘hob’?]
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Nothing Is Missing =-.

    • Hi Brenda,
      A hob is the part of a cooker with the cooking rings on it. We have a separate built under oven/grill, and a separate hob that sits in the worktop. It means you can position them in separate places. The hob’s on the blink.

      I’m glad you noticed and appreciated the format and I could hug you for the phrase “master of metaphorical thinking” – what a lovely way to express it! Metaphors and symbols mean a lot to me and say a lot about how I experience life. I love patterns and this is one way of investigating them, going back through old writing and spotting the repeating or interwoven metaphors.

      If I could, I’d send you all the snow we have here at the moment. I’m sick fed up of it and all the accidents and panic buying and road closures and mountains of snow-ploughed snow turning black beside the traffic on the roads that are open. I know it’s nothing compared with Haiti and Chile and parts of Europe, but it’s harrowing for older folk or those whose cars aren’t equipped to deal with the conditions.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

  3. “Some days, all I can manage is grey slush by the side of the road.” Yup, that’s how I feel today… washed out and exhausted. But tomorrow is a new day. 🙂

    • I hope your tomorrow is one of those bright sunny snow days that makes everything feel all snow sparkly and leaves you cold nosed but rosy cheeked. Here’s a cyber hot chocolate or some Scotch broth to keep you going till tomorrow!

  4. Oh Janice, my dear, how much I needed this post today! I opened it last night, around midnight, and had to force myself to go to bed and not respond until today (you know how little sleep I had gotten the night before.) Every word is perfectly in its place, in whole creating a masterpiece. It needs to be forwarded over and over on the internet until every breathing soul has read it.

    I had been pondering my life lately, wondering why I have had so little time to write on my blog, respond to emails, go to the blogs of the writers I love, or even keep in contact with people important to me. I think what has happened, is that I have become that snow-laden branch. Each small thing in my life, brings me joy: Teaching school all day, correcting homework at night, preparing lessons for the next day, helping my son with his homework, cleaning house (yes, even that brings me joy because I like things clean!) running our church Sunday school, being the treasurer for the Boy Scout troop, helping an invalid two days a week, writing on my blog, participating in a writers’ class, going to aerobics, watching my son in his martial arts class, showing him how to be an effective Patrol Leader in scouts, and on and on. I LOVE each of these things. I don’t want to give up anything. But I don’t want broken branches either. Two suicides close to me this week have driven home that point.

    You’ve broken down the whole process for me. You’re right, each little snowflake is a thing of beauty and joy. A blizzard full of them creates havoc. Just when I think I’ve got everything under control, “snap” go my branches. I’m taking your post with me and I re-evaluate all the little snowflakes in my life and determine at what point I have too many snowflakes.

    P.S. I had to team-teach a class of about 100 people last week on how to eliminate clutter. I was going to do a blog post on what I learned/taught. Do you mind if I use this quote of yours?
    “Every piece of junk mail we leave lying around, every book we can’t part with or memento we don’t know how to deal with can become an avalanche of clutter.”
    .-= Randi´s last blog ..Sunday Serenity 2-14-2010 =-.

    • Thank you so much for such a heartfelt gift of support. I’m truly blessed to have the readers I do. If anything I write has worth, it’s because of the folk who continue to make me feel like it’s still worth reaching out and trying to share and make sense of anything I’ve learned or been inspired by. If I didn’t have feedback, I suspect I’d go back to journaling in notebooks and writing unread manuscripts.

      You make such a great point here, Randi. So many folk think overwhelm’s caused by inactivity or procrastination, but as you’ve illustrated, it’s often caused by doing too much of what we love and saying too big a Yes! to the world. You do a marvellous amount of caring things. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you catapult that snow. Selfishly, I hope you do go back to writing and blogging when you balance things out. Your writing touches me and a lot of other folk.

      You know that everyone here who’s come to know you and love you over the months, as I have, sends you huge cyber hugs to help you deal with the tragedy of those two suicides.

      Feel free to use the quote or any others that you want from previous decluttering posts.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

    • You’re very welcome, Barbra, and thank you for continuing to help me believe in the worth of what I do. I guess mentor coaches never stop looking out for their fledglings! I love that you know I’m not really a misery or someone who can’t see the perfection in every situation. Your belief in me, my coaching, my critiquing and my writing didn’t just help me become an IAC certified coach; because of you I’ve got closer to becoming the me I was born to be, and I’ve led a happier, more fulfilled life.

      One of the things I’ve always loved about writing for coaches over in my coaching column is that I can take it for granted they’ll know there’s a positive point to my sharing, even if I’m sharing a vulnerability or negative emotions. That’s why I named this blog Sharing the Journey, and didn’t use my old domain name, Loving the Details. I’d be a hypocrite if I claimed to love all of the details all of the time! I try to inhabit a mindset where I choose to love what is; sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don’t. I like to think that being brave enough to express my humanity without trying to advise or fix or preach gives folk who visit me over here the ‘permission’ to just be, to express their ebbs as well as their flows and feel like they’re with folk who care and want the best for them. Gosh, that was a long sentence… (nothing’s changed there, then 😉 )

  5. Hi Janice .. you’ve had a tough time up there .. I do hope for all of us Spring is coming. I love your picture .. and as you say each tiny flake adds just a microscopic little. Nature comes back .. think of the 1987 storm, and the 1962/63 blizzards – you’re too young!

    I love the metaphors of snow and life .. so well expressed .. we really need to do everything we can today, so tomorrow is decluttered ..

    Hope all goes well with the thaw – and you don’t have too much more snow .. all the very best – Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Alpha, Treacle, Beta, Dogger, Snow – what do they mean to you? =-.

    • Hi Hilary,
      I remember the 1987 storms and the hurricane of the early 70’s too – it blew the roof off my uncle’s shed and it landed two streets away! I’m feeling grateful for the chance to write about my snow situation here; the snow definitely has the power to get me down, when simple things like shopping are affected, but I won’t let it. At least the snow ploughs got here and we managed to dig the car out and go shopping. My neighbour also managed to get to hospital for her treatment. What makes me anxious are the few truck drivers and speeding idiots who drive around in these conditions like they’re normal. They end up jack-knifing or crashing and causing accidents or trapping a lot of folk on blocked roads. Thanks for your good wishes; I appreciate them.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

  6. Hi Janice,

    I never thought I would say the following considering we hardly get snow in our area but we got more snow than you did in Scotland. We have gotten over 50 inches and it has been amazing.

    There is a silence that comes with snow which I adore. Not to mention, the following day when the sky is bright blue and the sun is shining brightly. Unlike many people, I love snow and blizzards.

    I think there is something peaceful about a blizzard especially when you are outside in it. We did that with the three blizzards that hit our area. We got in our truck and drove around. Many people thought we were crazy but each trip was a wonderful experience. There was a sense of tranquility driving down an isolated road. I took a few pictures which I will email you so you see what I mean.

    You are so right, together we are snow. It is amazing to me how sometimes we get so caught up in our issues, we ignore the fact that together we create the world. To quote the famous song…”we are the world”.
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..The Re-Invention Progress Report =-.

    • Hi Nadia,
      I love that snow silence too, and the way the light changes. I look forward to receiving your snow photos. I love snow photography, especially taking portraits; the light’s always a joy to capture.

      We usually get more rain and ice than snow here in Scotland. Apart from in the mountains, as a country, we don’t usually get this much at a time. That’s why folk are often unprepared when we get a lot of sudden snow that doesn’t stop for a few days. We didn’t have a blizzard this time or last; it just kept gently coming, and coming…and coming! The local government departments ran out of salt last month because of the weather, which is a bit daft really, given we’re an island!

      We don’t have a big four by four jeep type car and even if we had, I don’t really enjoy driving in snow, especially not with my kids or my dad in the car when the conditions are treacherous. Luckily, my husband only missed four days of work and was able to do some from home. It’s not so easy for folk who risk losing their income if they can’t get to work.

      I think snow’s amazing to look at, play in or to feel on your face if you’re in a safe place, but I find walking in it difficult and often painful because of my back problems. I guess that’s why I’ve empathised so much with the ailing and elderly during this sudden freak snow crisis. The town was cut off and we had power cuts here because of fallen trees and power lines, so it’s not so much fun going out in the snow if you’re elderly and coming back to frozen pipes, a cold house and eating tinned food by candlelight.

      It’s all relative, though. We’re all incredibly fortunate here compared to most of the planet’s inhabitants, but it’s not my place to compare the relative suffering of others. All I can do is be grateful for the blessings in my own life, focus on what learning there is for me on my own journey, and guide my kids on theirs.

  7. Hi Janice .. I don’t remember the hurricane .. didn’t affect us down here or perhaps I was young and flitting around!! The ’87 storm I was in South Africa .. my brother had fun and games – he was in Cambridge doing some work – took him 3 days to get home .. their lane wasn’t cleared for that long .. his wife had to grab the cat – put her in a pillow case, grab the two dogs .. and clamber over the gate – couldn’t get out otherwise & seek sanctuary down the lane. The Aga burnt that part of the house down .. and the chimney fell in over the sitting room (through two of the bed rooms) but the house was so well built the chimney didn’t go through to the bed rooms .. the end result they turned the burnt bit (kept the shell) into a garden room (instead of the old fashioned coal holes etc) .. and then later on added a conservatory that be accessed from the garden room – with near enough 360 deg views of South Downs – very nice too!!

    Yes .. people dashing all over the place .. it is frightening .. and the basics are essential .. Mum was bad this period, so I tottered up to see her when I could – but it’s only a mile + (uphill!) anyway walking was more dangerous?!) – forgotten that the car I have now my uncle’s old car – automatic and a Merc granted – didn’t like the snow . it my car it would have been a piece of cake, but the automatic made a big difference ..not easy to drive in the snow.

    I’ts so much better to be safe than sorry! Let alone the angst caused to everyone else .. I’m glad you were able to get out with difficulty, and your neighbour had her hospital appt –

    Bye for now?! Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Alpha, Treacle, Beta, Dogger, Snow – what do they mean to you? =-.

  8. Hi Janice. I enjoyed this so much. I’m a story-lover, and metaphor is where I live! So each one of yours sent me into my own memories and adventures. What a rich meadow this would be for a writing class: students, pick one and write for ten minutes. Or some such thing.

    Randi did that… and I share her experiences. My life is so full of fun, enriching, timeless yet time-robbing activities — none of which I want to give up. And there are days — rather middle-of-the-night moments — when my branches threaten to collapse.

    But that’s when, in the morning’s wee hours, I take my broom to those branches and brush away all but what will sparkle with the dawn’s light for that day. I must. I have enough years to understand that there’s time to do what there’s time to do. Gently brush off the rest… there will always be more snow. And my branches, while able to bend, could break under the weight of too much.

    And I’m also like Nadia. Everyone feels cabin-ed in by the snow — I want to take my camera and go out into the pure white silence and listen to my footfalls…

    A beautiful read — thank you.
    .-= Barb Hartsook´s last blog ..Learning Changes Us… or Does It? =-.

    • Thank you so much, Barb. It’s a pleasure to have you over here and it always gives me a thrill to hear that someone’s enjoyed something I’ve written.

      I think a lot of us are in the same boat, overfilling our lives with what we love. In some ways, I guess it’s a down side – if there is one – of living in the moment and believing wholeheartedly that this is the only day we have so we have to fill it to overflowing with living.

      I loved the art work over at your site, by the way. Do you paint your snow photos afterwards? I love the challenge of painting snow; you start off thinking it’s just light and shade but then come all the unexpected colours!

      I also smiled when you mentioned writing prompts. It’s something I used to do with my students. I was reading a beautiful book last week, full of amazingly meshed and powerful metaphors. It was like the book that thought it was a poem! One bit stood out so much, I could remember where it was on the page when I went back to take notes. Honey used as a metaphor for happiness.

      I think you may enjoy some of the mini series I have planned for the spring. Metaphor will definitely feature prominently. Lots of my favourite commenters here have a talent for expressing themselves through rich metaphor. I find my love of metaphor very useful when I’m coaching someone, maybe because I’m a professional translator, too. I have red alerts and sixth senses around the pattern language people use.

      Hope you’ll pop back again sometime soon for a coffee. I’m lucky to have a lot of creative visitors here. Some prefer to read silently, but everyone’s appreciated.
      .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

  9. Apologies to those of you who commented days ago but got late replies or haven’t had replies yet. I discovered on my last post that if I reply to comments as a visitor, without logging in to my admin, I can sometimes trick my blog into sending me email alerts when someone posts. Problem there, you realise, is that if I don’t log in, I never find the comments waiting to be approved or moderated. 🙁

  10. Hi Lori,
    I bet if you lived here, you’d have done a great analogy post about black belt preparedness for the snow and what it brings! Do you get much snow where you are? I think I was probably scarred by it as a child. Even at my happiest, I’ve never been a huge snow fan. Write about it, paint it, photograph it and send the kids out in it, yes, but just don’t make me stay out in it for long! I wrote this a few years ago:

    My kids’ delight in the snow is not contagious. After I packed them off to school, wrapped up, laughing and excited, I sat down at the kitchen table, hugging a steaming mug of coffee as I remembered my own childhood winters, trudging through blizzards to school, with frozen, aching fingers and toes, breathing in damp wool from the scarf I’d been mummified in.

    So, no ski slopes, toboggans and brightly coloured bobble hats for me, I’m afraid. Snow’s for Christmas, when the tree tops glisten, Bing and Dean croon, fairy lights twinkle outside on snowy conifers and I snuggle up in front of the fire with a feel good film and something yummy. Today I’m having a snow day. No ice-dancing with other cars on roads like ice rinks; I’m staying in and going nowhere.

    .-= janice´s last blog ..Writing Snow =-.

  11. Nature; beautiful even at its most destructive.

    It’s easy for us to look out the window and see something picturesque and idyllic. Scenery that reminds us of childhood and inspires Christmas songs.

    Thanks Janice, for reminding us of the duality of nature. Thankfully nature recycles. A process that we often find painful in our own lives, but none-the-less helps us grow.

    Great post.

    • Beautifully put, Marc. Thank you. I’m having to do some real heavy duty coaching with myself in my journals at the moment about my struggles to accept the devastation in my garden. Not one plant, bush or tree – except the disgusting Leylandii – has come out unscathed. Remember those flowering rhododendron bushes in the post I did about holidaying at home? Broken to ground level. And the jasmine? Gone. The laurels? Five years’ worth of growth sheared off. Ten years worth of gardening wrecked by snowflakes in a matter of days. Maybe it’s because I deliberately planned a garden with a future, one that left room for growth and slow blossoming and it’s taken a decade to happen. Maybe it’s because so much of the designing and planting and maintenance was therapy during some tough times and the way it all turned out was one of my minor triumphs. Or because the garden was a backdrop to years of happy memories with family and friends. My biggest lesson has been to accept the things I can’t change.

      • Or maybe there was something about the whole process you need to experience again. Something you may have overlooked or forgotten?

        Time will tell 🙂

  12. Wow Janice! I love your blog! This is my first visit, but it will definitely not be the last. What wonderful images you create with words. And thanks for stopping by Jewel Box Home and for your inspiring philosophy about small home living!
    .-= Genevieve Ferraro´s last blog ..Bedroom Bliss! =-.

    • Thank you so much! It’s lovely to have you here. I’m a bit techno challenged when it comes to sourcing photos to illustrate my posts so it’s lucky that I like taking my own photos and painting pictures with words! If you check out the blogs of the people who comment here, too, you’ll find I’m lucky to be part of a lovely, caring and talented community. I love blogs like yours, but I have to limit the time I spend in them or I could be happily sucked in and never get out – my kids would starve!

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