Today was a very snowy day in Ann Arbor, and while I’d choose a return to California and February beach days any time, there are also things I love about the snow. Most days, I go for a walk in my neighborhood in the late evening, winding down for bed and reflecting on the day. It takes on a whole different character in the snow, though. The sensory quality is boosted: the soft crunch and squish of snow beneath my feet, the distant thrum of a snowblower, tiny shivers of ice when a few bits of snow fall down the side of my socks, small lights that I’d never notice in someone’s yard until the beams reflect threefold on the blanket of shiny ice…and everywhere the dulled sound of a world muted by layer upon layer of soft snow
But I think my favorite parts are all the little asynchronous signs of humanity. It’s footprints that were placed at different points in the day, the edges of some softened by hours of additional snowfall, others sharp and icy from another evening walker just a little ahead of me. It’s varying degrees of “shoveled-ness” on different patches of sidewalk: some houses haven’t touched it all day, others have been shoveling consistently so there is just a thin layer of snow remaining, still others have crisp lines with tell-tale tire tracks on either side of the sidewalk and I know it’s a fancy house with a machine to do the work.
It’s a weird display of the American obsession with private ownership, crossing the property lines of each home and noticing the differences in how and when each household cleared the snow, but there’s also something lovely in it. I notice that the change in shoveled-ness (is there a better word?) often doesn’t exactly line up with a fence or property line. Many of the more diligent snow-clearers shovel a few extra feet, offering their neighbor a bit of grace for their own snow-clearing process. But no more than a few feet—your back starts to hurt and the gesture seems like enough (I say from experience). As I pass each house, I wonder about what thinking went into each of those extra inches or feet of shoveling grace. It’s the Matthew 5, “go a second mile” dynamic, but with a little winter-time apathy thrown in. It’s cold. Snow is heavy. Who can blame us?
On these cold days, when it’s hard to get much further than your own sidewalk, I’m thankful for the little glimpses of humanity that the snow freezes in time. (But I’ll also take a ticket back to California any time, then I’ll wax poetic on how the sand doesn’t hold its footprints for very long).
Hannah Lundberg is a Presbyterian minister serving in her first call at First Presbyterian Church, Ann Arbor. She graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City last May, and was ordained in October, when Renee served as part of her ordination commission! Hannah was born and raised in Southern California and is reluctantly learning to appreciate the beauty of “real” winter in Michigan.