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When the snow comes

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My father was on the faculty of Middlebury College. We lived on fraternity row, just down the hill from the chapel that's on every college postcard. Every winter day, we walked down the street among giant Disneyesque ice sculptures carved for upcoming carnival weekends. But our own snow creations seemed just as magical and ambitious. We used to tunnel forts under freshly fallen snowdrifts. The sun would melt the top layer, and the wind would freeze that slushy inch of wet powder. We'd spend the day tucked inside our cozy Vermont igloos, with the muffled world seemingly miles away. Inside one of our igloos, we could stand and look up at a sparkling, translucent ceiling of frozen snow crystals. I still remember the temptation to unhook my soggy gloves from their metal clasps to get that last bit of loose snow above me.

Snow days this close to Christmas drop me straight back into winter dreamtime: The kids are home from college; there's a steady rush back and forth from the kitchen for hot chocolate to the wood stove to hang up wet coats. All around, we step through sparkle landscapes.

When the snow comes, all activity and list-making freeze like the outdoors. Spreadsheets and websites are forgotten, laptops pushed aside. We move into an alternative reality, the magical times of "what we do when it snows." We need twice as many all-night logs close to the house, as those forest paths might be too slippery later in the day. We dig out the box of candles, flashlights and batteries, while matching gloves and mittens—haute couture of necessity—bring a premium. Questions abound for the unfamiliar Carolina scene: Do we need to clear branches off the driveway? Can the cars get out? Better yet, do they need to get out.

Before the snow, we were likely dealing with dinner plans or work deadlines. But now there are icicles on the north wall water faucet. The south side of the chicken coop is a skating rink. We had a neighborhood rabies alert and deer hunters on every horizon. Now the dogs are making themselves tiny, curled up on their inside cushions. We walk out the front door into utter stillness, step by step into a Christmas card.

I remember last month, on the first really cold night, the wood stove let out a loud groan. I thought it had cracked. The iron slabs were just stretching, I suppose, waking up from their easy summer life of being a plant shelf. That night I pulled out an old wool blanket and read the paper, cover to cover, by the fire.

We have entered the time of year when scissors and tape are never where they should be, when all household flat surfaces are hijacked for the holidays. We have entered that time of the year when rumors of flurries in Asheville bring slight, knowing smiles to our faces.

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