Alabaster alligators, giant white dogs, spherical ivory beings with stony eyes and smiles—the forecast is for snow and I can’t wait! I’m planning neither to ski nor go sledding and I find driving in the white stuff tedious and tense. Of course, with flakes gliding to earth like a rain of stars, I enjoy falling snow’s beauty as much as anyone. Nevertheless, even a blizzard’s eye-appeal isn’t my principal attraction. It’s the aftermath which I find most intriguing. Before the nuisance of shoveling is complete, impromptu sculptures begin arising in backyards, on front lawns and school playgrounds, in public parks and along roadsides.
I delight in snowmen, in the synergy of people and weather that generates ephemeral and spontaneous statuary, a mutual expression of climate and human creativity. These crystalline figures cause the most routine trips to erupt with unexpected objects, with a rustic artistic expression that startles and induces smiles. Curiously, those who would never take a chisel to marble or shape clay with their hands seem unafraid to express themselves in snow.
The snow must be just right, not too dry and powdery, not too slushy and wet. But when snow packs solid and the crystals cling to one another, fantastical creatures grow as unexpectedly as mushrooms. Many are the work of children who like building rounded individuals with carrot noses, charcoal eyes, and twig arms. Still, a lot of snow sculptures are so large and intricate as to clearly be the work of adults stricken for a moment with the power of childlike whimsy. Even the most hardboiled grownup can be incited to periods of uncontrollable imagination when the right weather beckons.
“One must have a mind of winter,” wrote poet Wallace Stevens in The Snow Man. Indeed, a snowfall provides a glimpse into the dreamland wintery mind of our neighbors, as when we find snowmen outfitted as pirates, clowns, ballplayers, and soldiers, or expressed in amazing menageries of dogs, bears, dinosaurs, turtles and rabbits. Sometimes architectural structures rule with castellated fortresses and needle topped towers. I recently saw a snow birthday cake that was lit with candles at night.
Expressions of momentary glee, snowmen lend enchantment to ordinary days. Even as we watch them slowly fade away in sun and rising temperatures, we anticipate the next frigid storm that will bring new and perhaps more fabulous creatures to life.