Snow and other stories

Tiny snowman, Mt Canobolas, July 2014.
Tiny snowman, Mt Canobolas, July 2014.

This morning at ten to six, Mum left town on the Bathurst Bullet. Because I came home and went back to bed, this feels like yesterday, or some other dreamy incident in the past. She was here for a week, and Steve was away at the ranger conference, so it was just Mum and me 24/7. It was one long pot of tea, really, and the telling and re-telling of stories, some with striking variations depending on point of view, some with suspicious holes in them, some we’d be proud to announce to the world, others – the juiciest, of course – that mostly live in the dark. And others not mentioned. Thought, maybe, but not given voice.

We were carless for the duration, so a lot of this was conducted at or near the kitchen table. We spent the last two days working on a scrapbook called A Day in the Snow, Now and Then. The pictures were assembled according to the following themes:

  • Cars arrive in snowy territory.
  • A snow ball fight.
  • The making of a snowman.
  • Putting the snowman on the bonnet of the car.
  • Seeing how long the snowman would last before melting/sliding off.

The Now photos were taken on July 7 this year at Mount Canobolas near Orange; the Thens were taken in the winter of 1972 near Thredbo. Everyone’s laughing, smiling, having fun in the snow. All sorts of other stuff was happening on both occasions. For example, in July I was in the middle of chemo so my head was bald. But you can’t see that in the photos because it’s beanie weather and everyone’s wearing beanies. My little nephew was in a bad mood from his epilepsy drugs (or just a common-or-garden bad mood, who knows) but you’d never know from the pictures how much he had to be cajoled to look at the camera. The photo of Dad back in 1972 shows him breathing out misty vapour; warm air from his lungs condensing in the freezing air of the Snowy Mountains. It adds wonderfully to the “it’s cold” effect. Only it’s not what it seems. “That’s cigarette smoke,” says Mum, giving me a new way of seeing an old photo. And other stuff. Layers and layers and layers of other stuff. But the fact is that we did all do those things on those particular days, and the photos are there to show for it. We all saw snow, had a snowball fight, built a snowman … and everyone had a different day in the snow.

3 thoughts on “Snow and other stories”

  1. My very first experience of snow was a kid from hot steamy tropical Papua New Guinea seeing the Swiss Alps when I was 11. A picture-perfect introduction!

    The second experience that stays with me was on Mount Canobolas and having a snowball schmack on my ear during a robust snowfight. It wasn’t the impact that stayed with me but the pain of my earrings freezing through my ear. I stopped wearing earrings because of that!

  2. My favourite snow memory is of a night in Switzerland when Annolies and I were invited to address the local branch of the Parti Ouvrier et Populaire (Le POP – Swiss Communist Party) on developments in Australian politics.

    We walked through deserted streets, winding through the old part of town, while the snow gently fell. There was no breeze so it was like in a fairy tale. Neither of us worried about the cold.

    The talk turned out to be controversial. When I described the effects of the Accord one of the leading POP members walked out. Later on I was told that was the Swiss way of communicating displeasure. That bloke was involved in selling out a local struggle to stop privatisation of the hospital.

    Later we walked home. We walked everywhere there. I can still feel the chill of the air in my lungs and the Narnia-like sense of wonder I felt.

    Thanks for this piece. It’s amazing how memory works. Like a ricocheting billiard ball, bouncing off the cushions of the past, colliding with the here and now and suddenly I am experiencing sensations that I had forgotten.

  3. Thanks for the memory jolt Tracy, the ricocheting billiard balls. My favourite memory snow is when I was asked to clean the windows of a cinema in Katoomba. I arrived at the Edge cinema complex as the first snowflakes started falling. Soon the snowflakes became bigger, as large as my fist, like the Pixel snow falling on the screens inside. I remember the sound so clearly. It was silent, but a beautiful silence I could smell and touch. The snow, the silence. Nothing seemed the same. And cleaning windows became an abstract idea with no meaning. I listened and I felt and I tasted. But I didn’t clean windows that magical day.
    Amen

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