SNOW changes everything. When you're little, it's up to your waist, so instead of walking you sort of swim standing up. Sometimes school is closed. Sometimes the electricity is off and you have to use candles and bake potatoes in the fireplace.
Everything looks different. Garbage cans become trolls and fire hydrants look like Santa's helpers. A friend of mine was walking along after a big blizzard and he heard a hollow sound under his feet, because he was walking on top of a car disguised as a small white whale.
Even with just a little snow, it's like a vacation. A vacation on the moon, because there doesn't seem to be much gravity. You wear thick clothes, so you move slower, and when you fall down, there's so much snow and snowsuit between you and the ground, it hardly hurts. I know, because falling down in the snow is a specialty of mine.
Sometimes I do it for fun. I feel carefree when I toss myself into a really deep, new, fluffy drift. It's like jumping into a feather-bed or an ocean wave, and then you get to watch sparkling snow fly up around you. Sometimes it's a complete surprise. But even when I did a belly-flop off my front steps the first time it snowed after I'd lived in California for eight years, I pretended I did it on purpose. After all, a belly-flop is a good way to get a feel for the particular snow that has just arrived - and also a taste, if you're not careful to close your mouth on takeoff.
Snow changes people, too. The kids in my elementary school got pretty wild when the playground was all white and the cloakroom filled up with boots and snowsuits. At least they didn't laugh at you when you fell down. They joined you. There was only one hill on our playground and kids would skid down it on their boots. The more skidding, the icier it got. And the icier it got, the better they liked it. Everyone would line up at recess, waiting their turn on the snowslide, and when someone fell over, they' d fly down the hill and fall on him. Or her.
I remember being at the bottom of an igloo made of thickly wrapped third-graders, with only a little light coming in through the tangled-up arms and legs. It was a very silly thing to do, with an even sillier name pig pile." I never knew if they called it that because they were used to pigs - some of the kids in my school lived on farms - or because they were acting like pigs.
Snow changes most things, but dogs just act even more like dogs when it snows. The only thing our dog, Sophie, loved more than snow was mittens. She'd gallop by, her nose to one side, and - chomp! - she'd snatch off your mitten and run away with it, tossing her head up and down and looking over at you as if this was a fun game she was inviting you to join. We never did, though. Our hands were cold, and anyway, we couldn't catch up with her. She was fast and taller than everyone but me.
My mother put our mittens on strings. But this didn't give Sophie much trouble. She loped up to my sister, chomped, and when the mitten didn't come right off, she gave a tug. Zoom! The mitten on my sister's other hand disappeared, shot up one sleeve, over her shoulders, and out the other sleeve. Sophie raced off with two mittens and a string, even more delighted. "Waaaah!" cried my sister.
Not to be outdone by a Labrador retriever, my mother safety-pinned our mittens to our sleeves. This did slow Sophie down. For a moment. She tugged, and all of a sudden, I was hurtling down the hill behind her. At least I still had my mitten on. And it was pinned to my coat. But it was also firmly clamped in Sophie's mouth. She kept looking back at me joyfully. At last she had gotten someone to keep up with her. I can't say I shared her enthusiasm, though for once, my hand was warm.
Startled kids, a snowman, sleds, trees, and a snow shovel whipped by. I think my boots were flying straight out behind me. If it counts as a fall, that was my farthest. We pelted all the way down a long, gentle hill as fast as Olympic slalom racers before a grown-up caught up with us and made Sophie untooth my mitten.
I never throw snowballs. It's not just that I'm kind and polite. I'm also not nearly as good at throwing snowballs as I am at catching them - usually with my face. Once my grandmother came to school with me. On the way home, there was a noise like a meteorite approaching, then total, bewildering whiteness. A pig-piler had thrown a snowball across the street so skillfully that it had stuck behind my glasses. But I knew who he was. I could tell from the whoops of laughter he gave when my grandmother remark ed, with her usual way of putting it mildly, "Rude!"
Snow is beautiful as well as silly, which is why sometimes I like to fall down very gently and make angels. You put your hood up. You just sink slowly down on your back, and swoop your arms and legs as if you had wings. You look up and see bare tree branches, a big, wide, cold, winter sky, and maybe a few flakes, delicate gray against the white clouds, wafting down toward you. When you get up, there's a picture in the snow with feathery wings and a whirling skirt. Snow really does change things. Even a p ig-piler can lie down, do some swooping, and when he gets up, it's just as if an angel had rested there a moment.