When you're a kid, snow is a rare, precious resource-- a chance to reshape the world to your will, if only for an afternoon. The scope of potential projects is perfectly kid-sized: limited to basic geometric shapes and defensive functions, you're going to end up with either a ball or a wall, regardless of the outsized ambitions you had while your folks did a spot-check on your winter clothes before turning you loose.
(Clicking on these strips will make them appear larger in a new tab, as if by magic!)
Snow-wise, the smartest kid in the world's efforts are going to look mighty similar to those of the dumbest one's, assuming that the smart kid isn't too stuffy to go outside and do kid things, and the dumb kid isn't so monstrously thick that he just sits there in his own frozen filth, eyes lolling as he brays wordlessly at an unfeeling sky. Y'know what? Rather than distract from my point with further extremes, let me revise my previous statement: smart or dumb, you're going to end up with a fort. Maybe it'll have a ceiling, but that's more a question of the density of the snow than the child.
Snow means a chance to take a scoop of the ground in your hands and make something real enough to be a separate place, just for you and your invited guests. You can make something big and heavy and lasting, relatively. It's hard to remember, especially as adult-sized instances mount, but failure is a pretty regular outcome of most kid-plans. I can remember grand schemes to make all sorts of things, from burglar traps to comic books to movies, and finding as soon as I moved beyond the scribbled imagination phase that, oh, right-- I'm a dumb kid who's so young that I've only recently been allowed to use crayons unsupervised. Not only do I not know how to do most things, I literally can't do them, even with expert instruction. Also, these crayons taste terrible. Maybe the red ones taste better...
But snow? Mastery comes instantly. The only real hurdle, at least for me, was tracking down a full-sized carrot and negotiating a spare scarf and/ or gloves out of the house after explaining that I needed them so I could leave them outside where they'd be ruined forever. For fun!
The popular depiction of snowmen gave me unrealistic body image expectations for my own creations-- suitable branches were both too high up in trees and technically still living; most of the snow I was able to gather ended up full of stray leaves and acorns that muddied its pristine whiteness, and I couldn't begin to guess where one found lumps of coal. To this day, I'm not sure where I could get my hands on coal. Trains? Probably trains.
Of course, the fun was in the doing, not the did. I've never since found a stillness so pure as that which surrounded me while kneeling my slippery snowpants, tickling a tiny snowball along a listing path, nudging it ever larger as I scooted along behind, merging our separate tracks. The normal sounds of our neighborhood flattened out between the low sky and high snow, making the world feel so much closer and scalable; the sunshine muffled and wide behind a slate of clouds that took away all the shadows and made the day feel like it would never end.
I don't have much to add to these snowman-centric strips from our pals Bill Watterson and Charles Schulz, but after reading the comments to last week's post, I thought it was worth highlighting the acknowledged influence Peanuts had on Calvin & Hobbes' wintry exploits. There are loads more points of inspiration throughout the rest of the strip's run, but if I shared them all right now, it'd be springtime by the time I finished typing. Enjoy.