Chicago’s snow has its own personality, one that changes as the season ages. It’s innocence is found in these early December days during its first few flakes.
Early season snow is strangely childlike, appearing happy and curiously dusting the paths. It explores terrains that were lonely just a month ago. Strangers look upon the snow kindly, as it means no harm. Quite the opposite; the snow works as something of a seasonal enhancement. “It gets me in the Christmas spirit,” is a common utterance by those who aren’t usually made wistful by weather.
Watching December snowfall in Chicago is, in some strange way, akin to my own childhood. In certain moments, I can suspend my disbelief of the world while watching snow fall backlit by flashing Christmas lights and smiling faces seemingly made to feel more at home by its presence.
Problems fall away with the flakes. Responsibilities become less important and aspirations relate more to a twinkle in the sky than something that aches at my neck and pulls my shoulders forward. A sliver of time becomes seemingly endless, if just for a moment. I can look up into the sky with awe and see cotton-like snowflakes float gracefully downward and remember what it felt like to be amazed by what else could be out there in the world, a feeling now accompanied by a shiver of fear.
Around January 15, the utterances of pleasure turn sarcastic, sometimes guttural. “Oh good, it’s snowing” loses an O and turns to “Oh god, it’s snowing,” which soon turns into “Again with this fucking shit?!?” These are snow’s teenage years, personified.
In its teen years, Chicago’s snow becomes something of a nuisance. It has everything it wants and takes more, blocking pathways and roads, ruining shoes and socks, and completely burying dachshunds. If snow has learned anything – and it hasn’t – it’s learned that destruction and annoyance is good and perhaps even funny. Strangers look upon it angrily, as the cotton-like balls turn from innocent and playful to “that fucking shit that made me late for work again!” Not long after this, snow brings 20-inches of friends over for a party.
January’s snow lacks for care of anything. It is, after all, just snow and a teenager at that, but it seems to have lost a certain sense of humanity. It’s more in-your-face now, blowing into your eyes with the force of a boxer’s punch. The lack of care begets a lack of empathy from most passers-by and walkers-on. January snow goes unplayed with, except by loving children and playful dogs who see no difference between the January and December snow. The nuance is lost, the nuisance is gained. It doesn’t want to play with you, either, and sometimes will make the children cry loudly and dogs hobble around pathetically.
In February and March, Chicago’s snow reaches its adult years. We’re OK with it being here and it has every right to be here. It’s tough and it makes us tougher. It occupies the streets like a corner store occupies a corner, every so often refining its exterior. It’s respectable. Dogs readily play in it and with it – even the dachshunds have evolved a new hopping movement – but children look upon it with tired eyes, choosing to sometimes cry at the sight or memory of it. Other adults try not to discuss the snow, preferring to keep with their own friend groups or perhaps a book at home. Strangers choose to give snow no mind, except for those who haven’t seen it in years – those folks just see the same ol’ December snow they loved as a child and forget the petty differences and growing pains.
April, sometimes May, is Chicago snow’s twilight years. Lately, it’s death rattle has taken on names like “Thunder Snow,” seemingly eating something greasy earlier in the day and scaring the children with its moans of pain. The Christmas lights that once made Chicago’s snow population look sweet and innocent are long gone; the flood and house lights show it’s gray, crumbling exterior. Dogs are yelled at when they tilt their head to look at it, considering a brief roll-around. Children ask when it will finally die. Soon, it does, waiting for a chance at reincarnation, if such a thing exists.
There’s no great summary. Chicago’s snow is itself throughout the season, varying in states and stasis just as we do. This year, in Chicago snow’s teen years through it’s death rattle, I look forward to hearing friends, family, coworkers, and strangers tell me about how they’ll move to Los Angeles, maybe Austin. “I just can’t do another year of this,” they’ll say with an exasperated look. I’ll laugh and say they should move, if they’d like to move. Then, I’ll go outside and catch a snowflake on my tongue and slide across the sidewalk, catching myself at the last moment.
Photo credit to ABC 7’s Facebook. Please don’t sue me. (note: by reading this, you have legally agreed not to sue me)