Of Fire, Water, Air, Earth in the Winter Mountains
For, as after a rain there is a second rain in the woods, so after a light snow there is a second snow in the woods, as the wind rises. Thoreau, Journal, 12/17/51
So too in the mountains…when the wind rises.
It is almost as if some fire were burning north of Franconia Notch. The north wind into which I point smokes over the ridges and courses down like its cousin water; it is a Niagara of variable white pouring toward me, flying by above. I edge into a pullout, grab my camera, step out and climb some feet up the bank; now I can feel the snow’s tiny grains ticking on my face, hear them on my quickly-inadequate nylon shell. I click off a few hurried shots and retreat to the car, where soon the fire of the engine is shunted back to me by the heater. Too elemental out there to tarry, I think.
Still, I look up into the coursing air, and in the thicknesses and thinnesses of the snows, in their flap and veer, I see the turbulent, liquid quality of air.
The snowfall now on the move again was, like all thus far this winter, a minor one, an inch or two overnight, and I brushed it easily from surfaces; the early morning world was a still-life. This second snow, however, this reshuffling, has a cold edge to it.
I have come north for contact with what Henry Thoreau called the “unhandselled globe,” (Ktaadn, The Maine Woods) and, in a minor way, I get it more than once while watching the wind stir this “second snow” and fling it like veils of dust across the mountains that rise above. Especially when I step out into it.
Within this snow and behind it the mountains are both substantial and in motion, and I am little, but in no little awe.