During a February week, everyone living between the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Ocean chased snow across the weather forecast. We were like the survivor of a plane crash in the Gobi Desert tottering after a lake receding into the horizon. We were like an old, arthritic dog wagging its tail and waddling after a ball rolling downhill. There were snowflakes in the forecast, and while civic leaders and unhoused people gritted their teeth, the rest of us staggered after this promise even as it danced just out of reach, never less than three days ahead of us.
Children turned their pyjamas inside-out to curry favour with the weather gods. Friends on COVID-safe catch-up walks eyed the clouds and told each other it looked like snow. Migrants from New England and the Midwest made a show of laughing at the giddiness that accompanies Seattle’s single annual snow event. The Cliff Mass weather blog fielded the most traffic it’d seen since last summer, when its author infamously surveyed street clashes between anti-racism protesters and an out-of-control police department… and sided with the cops.
One Friday afternoon it began snowing, starting as a mist of fine flakes. In the quiet that smothers even the loudest cities during snowfall, you could hear them tinkling against one another as they fell. The air sparkled like it was shot through with diamond dust. It has taken me time to realise that it’s all well and good to get excited by falling snow, but real enthusiasts watch the surfaces where it lands. Is it piling up, or melting on impact? The tinkling snow was piling up.
By the late evening, sharp edges and corners, whole bushes and letterboxes had blurred together under a foot of snow. Gasworks Park’s iconic green mound was white and beset with inebriated sledders. Suburban SUV owners descended on empty parking lots and engaged four-wheel drive for the first time. Couples and families moseyed in the middle of the street. In a city that takes pride in its coldness to strangers, we were actually saying “hello” to each other.
In the morning, the snow blanket had thickened considerably and was still growing. The evening’s drinkers had passed sledding duties on to armies of children and spectating parents. Skiers slid down back streets toward the lakeshore and then, later, speculated about installing urban chairlifts as they tramped back the same way. You could tell those of us who didn’t grow up around snow by the way we tottered about, constantly unsure of our footing, and then repeatedly leapt into pillowy drifts.
At night, the snow amplified the effect of streetlights and the ground seemed to glow. The backlight made it easier to spot our more elusive neighbours: a family of raccoons watched me pass as they huddled at the threshold of some secret den, a coyote trotted up an empty 45th Street (that will someday be Funky again). Later, we followed its quickening tracks through the fresh snow.
By Sunday afternoon it was raining. The city is once again grey with bare trees and dead gardens under watery midday sunlight, blue with a kind of underwater evening gloom. But if you peer closely at bare deciduous branches or winter-wrecked garden beds, you can see the first buds of spring beginning to poke through. It could be another mirage, but I for one am happy to chase it.
I took some bad photos of the snow, check ‘em out: