Chionophobia

I have chionophobia, fear of snow. This is not a professional diagnosis. Nor has it always been true. I used to love skiing and ice-skating. I could build a mean snow fort well into my nominal adulthood. The sharp scent of snow elicited memories of birthdays and mountain nights. The silence of snowfall still takes my breath away. I used to look at a frosted village and think of hot chocolate and sledding and the glorious freedom of snow days. (Yes, teachers love them also.)

Now I see pain. Lots of pain.

There is snow and there is snow, you know. Out West where I loved it, snow would fall in the night. We would wake to chamisa and piñon softened in sparkling blankets of every nuance of white and sudden rainbows. One late October morning the mountains would exchange their rusty sumac and oak mantle for blue-white and silver in the sunrise. Some December nights, we could watch flakes drift down outside the window, whispering ghost stories in the silence, and feel utter contentment in our warm socks.

Because then it would melt.

It was rare for snow to cover roads and sidewalks, to swallow up cars whole, to bring down whole pines with the sheer mass of frozen water stuck to their branches. Shoveling the driveway was a novelty, a delightful way to burn calories while moving snow where it would benefit the garden plants as it melted. It was funny to see the cross-country skier folks out on the bike trails, trying to get in a good workout before friction became problematic again.

Snow is falling, snow on snow. Snow on snow on snow on snow on snow on snow.

That is now. I look out the window and see the massive, centuries-old pine with broken branches that hint at the fall that will come. Maybe not soon, but definitely so. I see ice on power lines and maple branches across the road and wonder which one will come down this time. I see trenches that have to be dug just to get out the door. 

And then there’s my body. I am inching my way closer to the “help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” demographic. I discovered this rather abruptly last year while walking our hundred pound bundle of misguided exuberance. He pulled me down and there I was, stuck. No way to get my feet under me firmly enough to haul my frame off the ice. Frailty does not sit well with me. Also it hurts.

The one lesson of sedimentary geology is that water always wins. It has a gravity assist, of course, and the fluid freedom to follow its whims. Water, liquid or solid, flows down always, taking whatever it can carry along for the ride.

Water is also the only substance on this planet that takes up more volume in its solid state, meaning that when it changes from liquid to solid it will expand. And because it always wins, whatever tries to contain it will explode. Frost cracks, the record of water victories, riddle the bark in trees all around this house. This wooden house.

And that is where I am going with this today as yet another storm moves in to aggravate my joints and my distemper. I love this old house. I can’t imagine New England without salt boxes and Georgians and that one neoclassical monstrosity that always glares at every town common. I love the history in the horsehair and plaster walls and the generations of footsteps in the floorboards. I know it’s already weathered 250 years, so it’s not statistically likely to come down today. But I worry about the cracks forming in the parlor. And the cold seeping in around the wavy glass panes. And the ominous pistol-shot sounds in the night that are (probably) not the neighbors. (This is New Hampshire.)

I am simply afraid. And I begin to think that maybe this is not the ideal place for aging bodies — wood and flesh alike. 

The snow is not going to relent. Water always wins. Perhaps it’s time to bow to that. It is much easier to keep a house — and body — standing in warmer and drier climes. It is certainly easier to heat a house with the sun in places where the sun shines most winter days. It is also easier to cool a house with earth and rock — and solar electricity — in places where humidity does not trap the day’s heat on the ground. 

I am starting to question the received wisdom that cold and wet regions are the better places to hunker down while the planet heads deeper into climate change. I do wish I could pick up this old house and take her with me, though I suspect she wouldn’t like the desiccation, and there’s no wood in the drylands for her upkeep. In any case, I think it will not get easier to heat this sort of structure, and it is already impossible to cool. And then, there’s the bonus of many more weeks in the growing season.

There is a stoicism in this region, a pride in just bucking up and dealing with the weather. That is admirable. But maybe it would be better to build the future with a healthy fear of snow.

©Elizabeth Anker 2021


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