At last, on Tuesday, at our house in Stockton Springs and all across the state, it snowed. When I awoke at 2:30 a.m., as is my unfortunate habit, the panes of the big window beside the bed were silver, not black, and a gentle but persistent wind was nuzzling along the north wall of the house. As I lay listening, a plow truck scraped past the end of our driveway for the first time this season. Its headlights scattered golden shadows across the ceiling as it rumbled off down the lonely road, and quiet descended again.
The calm snowfall triggered an enjoyable “earworm” — a familiar, repeating melody in my wakeful brain. Back in mid-December, I had the pleasure of performing in a winter holiday program with the Bangor Choral Society. Among the pieces we sang in our three concerts was an arrangement of the first stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s melancholy poem, “Snow-flakes.”
Here’s the whole poem (Stay with me; it’s short. And please forgive my formatting difficulties.):
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
Longfellow, who lived from 1807 to 1882, was a native of Portland, a graduate of Bowdoin College and, by many accounts, the most popular and prolific poet of his day. He is best-known for his long story-poems, including “The Song of Hiawatha,” “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and “Evangeline, a Tale of Acadia.” But generations of Americans have embraced “Snow-flakes,” with its muted expression of grief. Despite the poem’s inherent sadness, it was a deep joy to perform with my fellow choristers.
There were several other snow-themed numbers on our program, too, which amused the singers and our audiences as well, given the balmy temperatures and near-total absence of the white stuff in the whole southern half of the state. I think we all enjoyed a certain sense of reprieve, along with most Mainers — especially after last winter’s harshness — but also experienced some uneasiness as Christmas came and went with daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s, without a flake of snow to be seen.
The truth is, I love winter. I moved to Maine from Virginia over 40 years ago, in part because of the clear delineation of the seasons and the reliable opportunity to explore the out-of-doors in the silent beauty of a recent snowfall. The prospect of a Maine winter without real snow makes me not only sad, but nervous.
So all day on Tuesday, as I watched the snow accumulate quietly in the low meadow that fronts the road, I hummed the snowy tune I had practiced so carefully in the weeks leading up to my choral performances. I wasn’t feeling melancholy at all. I fed wood into the old kitchen cookstove and contemplated pulling on my cold-weather gear and tromping outside to help Douglas clear the dooryard and the long, sloping driveway. I felt both calmed and elated by the promise of a clean, cold, white winter ahead.
By mid-April, I know, I’ll be aching to see the early buds rising on the willows and to sniff the sweet scent of the warming earth. But for now — Tuesday, today, tomorrow and in the weeks ahead — I am grateful for Longfellow’s wintry poem, this soft blanket of snow and Maine’s four-season beauty.