Magic of evening snow

…Wouldn’t you say that evening lights on fresh snow look very mysterious? And that doesn’t mean that gloomy and uncertain mysteriousness of a dark old ruin. Bathed in light, fresh snow seems to shine itself like a river of light, and somehow every place becomes the cosiest in the world. Do you know why?..

River of light from Mushishi

Short story long, in the country where I live winters are moderately cold. My grandpa used to tell how the temperature once had reached even -50 degrees (Celsius, of course – metric system for the win), but now such tales seem to be on the verge of believability, global warming and stuff. Still, usually there’re two or three days in January with temperatures reaching -20 degrees, so several days when children don’t have to go to school because of the cold isn’t anything unheard of even now (unless we take into account the pandemic, with everybody staying at home regardless of the weather). Well, as I remember it, going to school during such colds used to be quite awesome – in place of 25 students in a class maybe 4 or 5 would come, teachers wouldn’t give difficult tasks, everything would seem way more chill (pun intended) and you’d feel like you own the whole building. Add some nostalgic memories of playing in the snow and my appreciation of winter needs no more justification.

Northern Lights by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo

For several recent years (maybe even a decade) we get milder and milder winters, so rainy Christmas isn’t anything new, unfortunately. And so, after several almost snow-less winters came this one. It was alright, I even managed to build a snowman with a friend, though it melted after two days (the snowman, not the friend). And then came this very week. I actually don’t remember an instance when it would snow for probably three days straight. It’s nowhere near a blizzard, sometimes the snowflakes are barely falling, but still, snow accumulated bit by bit and eventually it’s safe to say that the whole country was covered by at least 30 cm of snow, which is a bit unusual. Of course, problems have come with that – trees are bent and sometimes snap, people drive off-road easily (if they manage to drive at all, that is), there was a report of a tree falling on a person… But it’s still winter, just like my mind says a winter should be.

Yesterday, I remained in my work longer than usual because apart from other tasks I found a very interesting article to read (a long one) and wanted to finish it. When I left, it was already after 10 PM. The streets were mostly empty, only some grandma was walking her dog, or a couple slowly passed me by. It wasn’t cold, maybe -5 degrees or so, the snow, which had been falling quite intensely for the whole day, continued to do so, and I chose to go home by foot. It’s not a long walk – even with a slow pace I can easily complete the little journey in 30 min. The path leads through a small park first, and then a pedestrian and bike lanes run along a river for some time.

…I exited the building to see the world become magical. To tell you the truth, I haven’t felt so much moved for quite a while. There’s just something extremely appealing about walking among the snow, being enveloped by it, with streetlights bathing everything in a warm light. The snow drifts gather the rays and shine so much that you even need to ascertain that it’s really an evening, and not a day. But that’s not that hard, since these particular reflections, this warmness can only be encountered during a magical snowy evening. Only during such time the whole world seems untouched, pure, and you’re alone seeing its tranquil beauty, as if it was made solely for you, or, rather, you feel that this magical secret was revealed only to you. The time ceases to exist. It doesn’t stop, since you can clearly see the snowflakes dancing, but after one snowflake comes another, and then another one, so you find yourself in a loop that neither has time, nor hasn’t…

…I guess it’s almost a default strategy of the media to associate snow with romance or something like that, but that was not the case for me. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t joyous either. It just was, and it was beautiful. Somehow putting on some random songs of Of Monsters and Men felt very appropriate – it was part cheerful, part calm, part relaxing…

Жил был Пёс (Once upon a time there lived a Dog), a beautiful Soviet short, 1982

…It’s really hard to think of any representations that may compare to this feeling, this sense of being in a moment, a very particular moment. I remembered an obscure Soviet animated short which apart from being a complete rollercoaster of emotions and having just as much nostalgic value as a snowy winter itself (my grandparents owned lots of VHS tapes with old Soviet animated shorts), has only a small scene set during winter…

Aoi Bungaku

…I remembered that a part of anime series Aoi Bungaku (part based on Osamu Dazai‘s Ningen Shikkaku) featured some very picturesque snowfields. Satoshi Kon‘s Millenium Actress was eternally searching through the snow, but that was not the right feeling. Snow can evoke many emotions, but there just wasn’t a case of that particular sense of encompassing one-ness with nature. Only nature?..

…Usually concepts of a city and nature may seem to occupy completely opposite ends of a spectrum, being areas where human activity and influence on surroundings is either overwhelming or pretty much non-existent. When snow covers a city, this opposition seems to vanish – all the hard concrete walls are smoothed by the white cover, instead of clearly defined pavements there are cosy paths, trees stand tall and noticeable, and you begin to feel wonder as if you were in the middle of a forest. Human activity is still visible – fields are littered with snow forts left from the afternoon effort by kids, the benches are occupied with snowmen (and snowwomen), but again, that’s not how a city usually looks like. It’s strange and unfamiliar, though not in a bad way at all, it’s just like both nature and a city have come together and have settled their difference only for the briefest of moments. And I’m alone to experience this transient unity…

…Then it dawned to me what I needed to remember – my favourite film series Kara no Kyoukai features exactly the scene I was experiencing. The first moments of the 2nd film show Mikiya walking through just the right sort of snowy evening, made warm by persistent but not too intrusive city lights. It‘s a moment that you feel at peace, a moment where you can meet somebody that for some reason feels incredibly familiar, probably because they share the same wonderful view of the grey city being purified, whitened, softened, engulfed in white transient tranquillity…

Kara no Kyoukai, 2nd film

…The next morning the magic was gone. Sure, the snow was still there, it was still beautiful, but it wasn’t the same. The light was gone. The streets were sprinkled with salt and the snow there turned into mud that cars happily splashed around. Machines have cleared broad ways where only narrow paths have been, and people walked to their jobs like it was just another day. It was just another day. The moment had passed…

Next morning

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