We really only have one word for snow. Yes, meteorologists might talk of stellar dendrites or graupels or aggregates – but when it snows, in English at least, we say "It snows." But this dearth of words doesn’t mean there’s any lack of ways to think about snow.
In third grade, as the first snow fell, our teacher had us go to the window to watch it - to get it out of our systems, she said.
And then, maybe because that didn’t work, she announced that we were going to do a little project. For the next 20 minutes we were going to write down 20 different ways to describe snow.
She wrote, “Snow is…” on the chalkboard.
So I wrote:
1. Snow is…cold.
2. Snow is…wet.
3. Snow is…white.
And suddenly right then, all those exactly good words seemed exactly wrong. Everyone knew snow was wet and white and cold. So I erased those words and wrote "Snow is ..." 17 more times.
And then looking over the page I had the chilly insight that nothing else should be added. That this lack of description, this “Snow is...” written 20 times over was the best work I’d ever done.
I passed in my empty assignment and heard nothing back. Whether I failed or not, I’d like to complete the assignment now.
Snow is…both brush and dust. It sweeps as it falls, cleans as it covers.
Snow is…a lightly sugared iron, a teaspoon down the middle of the tongue.
Snow is…the once upon a time of weather. Every snowflake a dislodged coordinate, a glass second from a century ago.
Snow is…like a bed over the land. Mattress thick and layered with soft cotton sheets and rumpled comforters. But this bed sleeps on us.
Snow is…a photographer. If any bird lands, if any stick falls, its picture is taken. What is here is what was also just here.
Snow is…one part moonlight, one part wind.
Snow is…fingerprints, falling down.
And the last 13 answers I’ll borrow from my third grade self, because I don’t know that I was wrong and maybe that emptiness was the best work I’ve ever done. I won't put them all down, but just a few. The rest can slip into silence.