Dispatches from Quarry Farm: The First Snow

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

The first snow of the year brings a crystalline stillness to the world. Quarry Farm pauses in muted silence. The trees, newly naked stick figures fresh from the fall blaze of amber and gold, are highlighted in the angelic white from above and rescued from the wind whipped blandness of cold mud and dormant stubble. The sky, usually dominant with oppressive greyness, is pushed far off in the distance and serves the solitary purpose of background, lifting the purity of the snowy middle and giving it a tangible luminosity that you can breathe in and hear and taste.

I’m out the door and up into the woods. The snow emits a muffled squeak with every step as it compresses under my boots and my arms stick out to the side a little more than normal because of my fat winter coat. The cold air rushing in through my nose tingles and feels good.  I can imagine it traveling all the way into my lungs before it warms up and is processed in my complicated pulmonary system that, when x-rayed, has a remarkable resemblance to the trees that I walk in amongst right now. They also have the same function, they are the lungs of the earth.

Way off in the distance I can hear a snowplow downshift and produce a familiar rumble that every northerner forgets that they remember and will recognize instantly upon its return.  For me the sound is tied to snow days and hot chocolate and the thawing of icy fingers after too many hours playing in a snowy school-free paradise. And presently, as of yesterday in fact, I have an even greater appreciation for the folks that charge out there when the weather is at its wildest to clear the streets for all the people trying to get back home.

I left my house yesterday to go pick up the lad from school as the very first flakes began to fall delicately from the sky. “Half-hour round trip,” I thought. “no problem.”  As I descended the hill and hit the highway, the situation went from Tom Sawyer to Mysterious Stranger—it got weird. Those fluffy little flakes became a blur of white streaks, like ludicrous speed in Spaceballs, and I thought, on this day in mid-November, about revising my yearly routine of mounting my snow tires in the first week of December.

I picked up the little fella and we headed back toward the Farm. As I hit the turn signal to go right on East Hill, I slid past the mark giving the shoulders raised, palms up “I’m sorry—what can I do?” gesture to the guy in the truck at the stop sign waiting for me to get my act together. I glided to a stop, did an awkward reverse in the middle of the intersection, and proceeded onward. The truck guy stared ahead with the look of an unhurried cow, but I’m sure he was wishing us well on the rest of our journey.

The beginning of East Hill is steep. I had almost zero confidence in our mission. We cleared the bridge section of the accent, which is still nothing compared to the grade we were about to hit. I got a little speed up, gripped the wheel tight at ten and two, and closed my eyes (kidding)—my eyes were close to bugging out of my head. One-tenth of a mile, two-tenths, then the wheels lost their grip and gravity took over. The transition from forward to backward was slow but full of potential. I was going to do a reverse swing to the right into the driveway I’d just passed on the way up—I’d seen the move on Nightrider when I was a kid. But as our speed increased I realized I wasn’t swinging anything anywhere. My son suggested, in a rather alarmed tone, that I try the brakes. There are several reasons why his suggestion was refutable but I didn’t have the time in that moment to list them. All I could do was try and keep the car in the center of the road, away from the deep ditches on both sides, and hope no cars were behind me as we careened down the hill backwards. I’m not sure the exact speed we were going but it was directly tied to my heart rate—unnaturally fast.

As the land leveled out and we didn’t end up in a ditch or a multicar pileup I grew to feel pretty darn good. A brief moment of stillness enveloped us as we came to a rest in the middle of the road like the cotton pillows of snow on our windshield. From above I could imagine our little white car quietly sleeping in the seemingly untouched white landscape where the difference between the road and the land is as mysterious as the indigo blue color of the snow filled sky at dusk.

I eased our chariot off to the side of the road and we started our hike. It was no more than a mile and a half up to the house—Twain did it all the time, of course that was in the summer—but really, as I told my boy at least forty-two times, there is nothing to complain about.

A whole evening and night of snow has delivered us a solid foot up on the hill. I pull my feet through as the powder parts around my legs giving me the sensation of walking through water—which is technically what I’m doing. Leftover hints of that mysterious indigo blend with the gray sky. The brilliant white powder and the wet black branches accentuate each other. The feeling of floating isolation makes me wonder if I’m still sleeping. There are only so many paths one can take out here in the woods and I’ve walked them all many times in the past five years. But there’s something so completely new and alive about this particular view. Maybe it’s that I can feel the whole world around me slow to a stop, even outside the seclusion of Quarry Farm. The weather is bigger than the plans everybody had and there’s no way around it. Except for the heroic snowplow operators, everyone allows himself or herself to take it a little slower than normal. Maybe they should let the clouds of white powder remain untouched for a while. Or maybe I’m just projecting because I think that’s what everyone should do with this opportunity. I dread the idea of walking down the hill to find my car. Not because it will be buried under a foot of snow and most definitely plowed in, but because when I get down there I might find out that it’s just another day.

There’s an open field at the top of the hill. It’s the highest point around. It’s the kind of place that you walk out into the middle of, spread your arms wide and fall on your back. When you float down to a gentle stop you might wonder if you’re still sleeping. You might wonder why you feel warm. You might let yourself pause in the blanket and watch nothing fall but the last few lingering snowflakes.