Snow days meant a surprise vacation in the middle of the week, hours and hours of unplanned time and a whole new landscape to conquer. My sisters and I would stuff ourselves into snowpants and parkas and dive bodily into the drifts, immune to the cold - or at least untroubled by it, in the face of so many adventures to be had. Icicle maintenance was always on the agenda. We would check the length of our favorite specimens, debate the best time for harvest, and build cushions out of snow in case they dropped too soon. Next we might explore the mysterious caverns under the bushes, where miniature icicles adorned the branches and a thick ceiling of snow lent a magical, bluish light to the space.
Of course there were always sculptures to be made: snowmen, snow angels, snow caves and forts. One winter, Dad was inspired to pile all the snow he shoveled from the driveway into the same place, so that the resulting hill nearly reached our (admittedly non-standard) basketball backboard. That glorious mountain allowed us to make a two-story cave with a slide on the outside.
One of our favorite snow activities, though, was making snow houses. These were not three-dimensional constructions but rather floorplans stomped into the yard that outlined palatial residences with as many rooms as our imaginations could muster up. Somehow these simple layouts were even more inspiring to the imagination than anything structural we ever attempted. I loved the feeling of having my own space, deciding where I wanted everything to go, and inhabiting the fantasy world that seemed to spring up around me from just a simple schematic on the ground.
When we moved to San Diego, one of the hardest transitions for me and my younger sister was the loss of our winter wonderland. Southern California had seasons, but they didn't seem particularly linked to the time of year, and they never preempted school. Worst of all, when December rolled around it didn't feel like Christmas. The Christmas tree in the living room helped, of course, but if you took one glance out the living room window, the mood was ruined by the view of a glimmering blue swimming pool surrounded by birds-of-paradise and tropical palms.
So we had to take matters into our own hands. Commandeering the kitchen and demanding absolute privacy, the two of us embarked on a top-secret mission to bring the snow to San Diego. I'm sure the secrecy was compromised more than once: we weren't exactly using a low-traffic area of the house. But on Christmas morning, when Mom opened the living room curtains, we were all treated to a panorama of arctic bliss. The swimming pool had become an ice skating rink, visitors warmed their hands at the jacuzzi, and concession stands sold hot chocolate at the patio tables.
As the years passed, I expected to get used to the Southern California climate: cool and cloudy in June, mild through the summer, windy and devilishly hot in the fall, and cool-ish in the winter. By the time I left California in 2009, I had lived there for more than 20 years. In fact, I lived in my apartment in Los Angeles longer than any other house I'd lived in up until that point in my life. Yet still I felt California's weather patterns were unnatural, and I longed for signs of the seasons, thrilling with each colored leaf or overhyped local TV weather StormWatch. Maybe there's a certain window of childhood during which your experience of the world around you shapes what you believe to be natural. I knew that I was romanticizing the snow, that driving in it would be a challenge I'd never had to face before, and that I was probably soft after years of living in a climate that rarely dips below 50 degrees. But I was ready for snow again, and when I had the opportunity to choose where to live (twice), I chose somewhere with four distinct seasons (both times).
Meanwhile, I've been doing some accumulation of my own, indoors. I have officially moved all my belongings here to Denver, and now am setting about the task of finding a place for everything. It's very strange going through boxes and boxes of stuff that was important enough to keep in storage but not necessary to my more spartan style of living in the past year. But I'm also getting some enjoyment out of defining my new living space, carving a new structure for my life out of the nebulous freedom I fell (leapt?) into a year and a half ago. I like it here. And I think it's going to stick.