A portrait of snow as a living thing

    by Sunil Sharma

    Snow starts the written conversation.
    Hari sends the statement: Snow is live! Witness its glory.
    The reply comes fast: Snow is non-living.
    Hari contradicts: No. It is a living thing!
    —How? Asks the friend on the other side of the digital communication.
    —Look out of the window—and see. A whole world out there. Above and beneath the white surface. On the surface, birds and squirrels and rabbits keep on moving and searching. Below the crusts, activities going on, invisible to the human eye; this strange snowy region is called subnivium. Part of snow ecology being studied by scientists as containing micro habitats for certain kinds of living organisms; situations that aid the flourishing of daily activities; insulation and a certain level of warmth below the surface conducive to the conduct of life. Interesting? Is it not? These insights by the researchers from the emerging field of snow studies and climate change.
    A pause in the text.
    The other side is writing.
    — Subnivium? The latest findings by the scientific duo of Jonathan Pauli and Ben Zuckerberg? The two came up with this term in the year 2013, if not wrong. I am aware of their ongoing interests in snow ecology, a rich field of study for the global scientific community, as said correctly by you.
    Hari writes back:
    —You are right Henry. A field full of immense possibilities for our limited understanding of snow. It is expanding our awareness about this cold thing. Snow is no longer perceived to be a frigid zone where life comes to a standstill in the season. On the other hand, surprisingly, mere six inches deep, a sustaining environment for plants and mammals exists. It changes perceptions about snow as a cold and hostile material.
    —Thanks, Hari for the quick tutorial. I find it engaging. Winter. Snow—both having their own ecosystems. Snow and warming earth are constant worries for humankind facing extreme challenges.
    —Yes, Henry. Climate change is real for us except the political class and big money. —Yes. But even the cynics and deniers cannot escape the consequences of extreme changes in environments. We need to raise awareness and mobilise public opinion on the long-term basis.
    —Yes, we must. A lot is already happening. Even students and artists are getting involved in this project of sustainable future. What else, boss?
    The fingers move fast. Hari watches the snowy yard and texts simultaneously:
    —There is life above the crystal sheets also, buddy. The snowpacks are home to the living beings. Nature. Fabulous! But much abused and degraded by the greedy.
    —Very sad! Ignoring the evidence and denying any wrong-doing by the elites, the world over. Hari writing.
    —Our future ecologist Hari is right about snow as a micro climate helping certain species to operate under most tough conditions. Incredible! Hari you must join some team to the Arctic for further investigations of snow and climate change. Ha!
    —Not sure about that, buddy but I love snow and read the current literature on it. I must know about my surroundings and try to make a difference through informed choices. I am not a fan of dystopia. Henry writing furiously: I remember your first reaction to snow…ha-ha!
    Hari sends the heart emoji. Then writes back: Fresh from Mumbai, I had not seen snow in my short life of 24 years. It came as a pleasant discovery here. Back in India, folks talked of the severe winters in Canada and surviving them as a huge challenge for the new arrivals. Cold. Ice. But they forgot one thing: adaptability of the species.
    —Yes, you are spot-on. Coming from Trinidad, I too carried the same apprehensions here in Toronto. Canadian winters! As if we were going to be banished to another Siberia!
    —Ha-ha-ha! But we both survived to tell our tales back home…
    —And became friends through the snowfall.
    —Yes, we did. Meeting that grey day…unexpectedly, in the open, under a falling snow. What a romantic setting! Ha!
    Henry writes: I still remember. You walking in the snow and trying to catch the flakes in the outstretched hands, eyes squinting. Never seen an adult enjoying snow like this…with full abandonment. Ha!
    —And toppled over a three-ball snowman in the corner yard.
    —Yes. The kids squealed, you joined their laughter, mouth open, eyes wide, while the flurries drifted in the frigid air, covering you in white sheet…
    —And a stranger coming from the street and helping me up in that whiteout. What fun! All of us laughed and became one family of happy humans!
    Henry sends the emojis. Then, the message: The winter got delayed then, as it has this year. Sad!
    —Yes. It arrived late in 2021 also. Snow is expected here right from November and lasts till April, as the old timers say. Things have changed.
    A long pause.
    Henry texts: Snow! Got its attractions—like the sea and rain and desert.
    Hari sends a thumbs up. Then: In Mumbai, I had seen snow on the screen only. We are famous for the monsoons and rains that go on for four-five months. Rain has got their own music.
    —I know. Rains have their appeal. No rain, no life!
    —Yes. Although rains are also getting delayed there unduly. Sometimes they are scanty and sometimes, plenty. The disturbed cycle goes on like that. Flooding. Next year, scanty fall.
    —Scary, these global changes in the atmosphere! Affecting us and the planet badly.
    — It is real scary. I was expecting snow in November here but could see the real one in December during the third week only. Then a severe snowstorm in January this year.
    —Hmm! Happening frequently now. Undue delays and then bursts of snow, rain and sleet!
    —But the sight of snow compensates for the long wait. Mesmerising! My first snow. An extraordinary visual experience!
    —True! Even I was stunned by its beauty five years ago. The snowfall has its own poetry and a cinematic quality.
    —I came out of the house and walked down, the snow falling on my hand and mouth, an odd sensation. Fluffy crystals raining down. I walked slowly. There were snowflakes around, like the swirling dervishes of another order. Ground covered with the 10-inch accumulation.
    —Magical! The scene changed into a fairy land.
    —Correct. The sky and earth—all white and a wonderland never seen. Rooftops, trees, vehicles, streets—everything grey. Never seen such a natural splendour before.
    —Me, too! It was liberating for the body-n-soul.
    —There were kids out in the snow, building snowmen, some with parents. Most wonderful sight—families enjoying the winter in groups, celebrating and creative with the medium, crafting the sculptures in their yards. Snow brings out the best artist among the people. Like the rains that make the kids dance on the streets in Mumbai.
    —Yes, I have seen those videos. Fun time for kids.
    Hari writes: I do not know what overtook me that day. I stretched out my hands and started walking. Trying to catch the falling snow…the way we used to do in Mumbai, trying to catch the first rain drops, getting wet in the process but delighted. Welcoming the rains after stifling heat there. We enjoyed the feel of the drops on bare skin.
    —Way of connecting with nature. As kids we know that but tend to forget later on.
    —Yes. Recovering childhood, while watching them like the rain or the snow. The outdoors has its own appeal for me. I often walked in Mumbai in the evenings for air. Here too, it was overall a great experience. Being a part of the earth and sky, in that precise moment.
    —And falling down in the excitement in the yard of a stranger…
    —I was under the spell of Khuno!
    —The old god of snow and storms of the Aymara and Inca people, as they say. A real protector of his kingdom who does not like folks tampering with snow by burning things or melting it by any wanton act. He wants humans to endure winters, storms and snow and for that he had spared the cocoa plant for the people. —Great! Love the god and his style of working in the Andes through his subjects.
    Henry sends the laughing emoji. Then: Mythology interests you? Glad to know that.
    —Yes. It is a pathway to an older way of living, seeing and experiencing the world in its full glory under the watch of the old gods; a way of life, now lost forever, for the consumers of kitsch. —After Covid-19, people have realized the folly of the human-centred model of growth and development and slowly appreciating other world-visions, trying to reclaim them.
    —True. What I feel is that we must not dismiss the early gods. They show the way forward, even in the new millennium. Khona is one among many such early gods. The problem started when we discredited these gods and called their worshippers as the savages and primitives. Look at the damage we, the moderns, have done to the climate and earth.
    Another long pause. Hari watches the snow falling over the neighbourhood, creating grey patterns.
    He asks—Henry?
    —Yes, boss!
    —Snow brought us together. My surprise! Next day, finding my saviour as a co-worker in the same warehouse and same team, of all the places, ha!
    —Destiny! Ha-ha-ha!
    —Yeah! Mysterious hand of fate.
    —How is your health now?
    —OK. Catch up with you. Bye.
    —Working today?
    —Nope. Enjoying the snow.
    —Good. Take some pics.
    —Sure. Bye!
    The intensity of the snowfall increases. Shrouded in grey, all things.
    After a few minutes, Hari sends another message to Henry: Hey, BTW, could you finish Peter Hoeg?
    —Yes. Finished it two days ago. Smilla’s Sense of Snow is riveting!
    —I told you so! A different novel!
    —Totally different in texture and feel. Enjoyed it. Nobody writes like that these days!
    —What are you reading now, Hari?
    —Well, something equally interesting.
    —Hmm. What is that?
    — The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Published in the year 1848 in England. Anne Bronte. Marvellous book with its own afterlife. You must read this classic.
    —Sure. Eclectic tastes. Talking of snow, Khuno, Peter Hoeg and Anne Bronte in the same breath!
    — I think books, like people, mysteriously walk into our lives. These books did that.
    Henry: BTW, any interconnections there?
    Hari texts: Common threads. Two strong women in these two widely-spaced books from two different cultural and physical geographies. Winter and snow as brutal settings. And a kid in the centre, driving the action. Random thoughts. Hmm!
    —And old god Khuno?
    —Khona is angry.
    —Saw him in a dream today, early in the morning. He was furious with the humans.
    —The wrath of God. Tell me more, please. Dreams foretell things and warn of upcoming tragedies.
    —Yes. Dreams have their unique grammar and syntax. One more thing.
    —What is that?
    —It was the day snow became a living thing. A living, breathing, raging God. Alive; a living force than an inert material!
    —Is it? I am intrigued!
    —I will tell you about the dream, post-lunch. A dream that is real.
    —Oh! Sure. Bye.

    Hari wrote a passage in the afternoon:
    The Raging God and a child saviour
    It was a morning dream.
    Morning dreams are true.
    I saw Khuno riding an avalanche. It was from a mountain top, sliding down in a mass of solid snow, the whole place shuddering, the wind howling, a shroud of white rolling down and destroying everything in its path. And then entering the towns and the villages nearby, uprooting the trees, houses, poles, billboards and the vehicles. He was roaring. And a snow storm was brewing in the back, a dark gale. As he slid down the town that looked like a skiing resort with its fancy hotels, malls and shops, he was stopped by a kid and her snowman.
    “Stop, please! Do not destroy my poor snowman. He has not done anything.” The child pleaded with the hoary God who was taken aback by the innocence and courage of the young girl.
    “Leave my path!” He commanded and the wind whistled in her ears but she stood her ground, despite shaking. “Please, God, spare my snowman!”
    “And why should I?” the God demanded from the child who had embraced the snowman.
    “And why not? God is kind and listens to the kids.”
    Khuno was pleased. He laughed. The roar shook the valleys and the towns and blew off the roofs.
    “OK, child. I am pleased with your answer. I will stop and will not harm you and the snowman but will not spare your town.”
    “Why, God? Why not the townsmen?” she asked with wide eyes. “What have they done to deserve your wrath?”
    Khuno replied gently: “Look around. See the town. Full of shops and hotels. Hardly caring for my snow. Destroying it with their developmental plans. Holding contests. Thousands of visitors…”
    “But, God, it is a skiing town.”
    “Yes. And what the tourists and hotels have done. Littered the snow with plastic and other things. They are not respectful to the snow, water, wind, sky and mountains! I cannot breathe! My other children are dying. Children of snow and sky.”
    “Animals and birds?”
    She stood quiet.
    “Earth is warming up. Snow caps are melting. Oceans are warming up. Forests are burning. Humans are killing marine life, trees, oceans, everything for money and more money only. They are cold killers. They do not know my wrath. I will bury them forever under snow and uproot everything by raising storms and winds. An icy wilderness—frigid and barren.”
    The girl began crying. “So SORRY, GOD! I am so Sorry for their crimes. Please forgive them. Spare them your wrath.”
    The God being God took pity and said, “OK, child. I will hold back my wrath. Go and tell them they have to change their ways. If they do not, it will be a lifeless planet soon.”
    “Thanks God. You are so kind. I will tell them.”
    God smiled and said: “Tell them that it was a noble-hearted girl-child that saved their town temporarily.” And Khuno vanished.

    —So real!
    –Did it end there? Asked Henry.
    —No. The end came as a surprise.
    Henry said: Tell me.
    —The girl.
    —What happened to her?
    —She looked a lot like Greta Thunberg.
    —She confronted the politicians and Elders.
    —What next?
    —They defamed and mocked her.
    —As they did the historical Greta.
    —Yes, but the end was different. I saw more and more Greta-like teens. Rising up as a young army in every country.
    —My God!
    —And confronting the leaders, laying siege to their offices and…
    —Khuno and the gods of snow of other countries laughing at the political class.

    Sunil Sharma is a Toronto-based author-academic-editor who has published 23 creative and critical books— joint and solo. He is, among others, a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

    Subscribe to our newsletter To Recieve Updates

      The Latest
      • The Usawa Newsletter June ‘24

        There are no chairs for audience in the court room You sit on the window sill

      • Test
      • Navigating Appetites, Feminism, Loneliness, & Murder

        Butter is the first of the books by prolific Japanese writer Asako Yuzuki, to be

      • Food That Becomes Something More – Aditi Yadav Reviews The Kamogawa Food Detectives

        In his magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, published in December 1825, just

      You May Also Like
      • Mahesh by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Translated from the Bangla by Somrita Urni Ganguly

        Published in Three Stories: Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (BEE Books, 2021)

      • Three Poems By Vinita Agrawal

        A beautiful achievement Her poems speak up for humanity, turning a compassionate

      • You are never alone By Rebecca Mathai

        In that week leading to Benny’s death, the Jacob kids were mostly at the