portraits in the snow

- originally published January 9, 2015 -

Inspired by the novel “An American Childhood” by Annie Dillard

It’s Valentines Day, and it has been snowing non-stop for the past week. I sit at the window and look out through the cold to see thousands of flakes fall and nestle themselves close to the others that are piled in our front yard. The sky is pink and silver while still somehow being dark. The streetlights look like stars hovering close to earth, just for now, so the few cars that ventured out can find their way home. They are unwavering, like miniature lighthouses in a suburban blizzard.

Sixth grade American history books and English papers are piled on my desk. Pre-algebra assignments are completed through the week. This is what happens when you have too many days off of school. You start making up stories in your head:

There was once a photographer who only took portraits in the snow. He tried taking photos of other things, but nothing turned out the way he wanted. It was only during a snowfall that he felt his life’s calling being fulfilled. So he captured many moments. Pictures of old steam trains chugging through blizzards, a snowy New York City in 1910, photos of children sledding and ice-skating, war scenes, ghost towns, and old churches. He would even walk into the forest at midnight and take photos of the full moon reflecting off rows of snow-covered trees.

Somewhere in this fantasy, my mom calls up the stairs and says that we are going to go for a walk in the snow. Even though the drifts are taller than my eight-year-old brother, my parents decide it will be fun to take a walk around the block. So I wear three layers of socks, a knit hat, and my dad’s oversized gloves because I can’t find mine and we need to go before it gets too late.

Once bundled up, we penguin walk down the driveway that has already been shoveled three times this week, and my brother and I skid and slide on the icy, snow covered streets. There are no cars except the occasional headlights making a turn ahead. We walk the entire neighborhood, and I sing Christmas carols because there aren’t really any Valentines Day Songs, except maybe love songs, but I’m just old enough for a crush and too young to know heartbreak. There are still strings of white lights and candles in some of the windows, but I can only see so much through the snow stinging my eyes. I look down at the ground and watch each footprint etch into the silhouette of my streetlight shadow.

At some point we come back to the house, and we have only reached the foot of the driveway when dad throws a snowball that hits mom in the arm. She squeals and tosses one back at him, sending my brother and I further up the driveway to collect our own ammunition. Soon we are all throwing snowballs fast as we can, laughing and targeting whoever caught us off guard.

Even though I’m still too young to know a lot of things, I seem to know that this is something I’m not going to forget. And, about twenty feet away, I can see another light flash, and I don’t really mind because I know who it is. There he is, standing with his camera on a tripod and looking kind of like a hologram with his coat and scarf. The photographer who only takes portraits in the snow. I’m sure I’m not going to forget. It was the Valentines Day snowball fight of 2003.