Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Snowlight

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Anyone who has ever lived in the North can tell you about it: snowlight. Waking from an afternoon nap I knew immediately, by the light alone, that snow was falling. Snowlight.

What's most surprising is just how bright it is. Some years back at a Midwinter's Eve bonfire down at Coldwater Spring, the ritualists went on and on about how this night, being the solstice, was the darkest night. Unconscious irony is my favorite kind. While they talked darkness, we all stood there in a night striking for its brightness. We'd had so much snow that year that one could practically have read a newspaper by the ambient light from the drifts and sky. Snowlight.

In quality and color it more nearly resembles moonlight than anything else: like the Moon's, snow's light is reflected light. But moonlight comes from a source, and snowlight is ambient. In snowlight, one immerses.

Snowlight has a certain thickness, a nearly tangible quality to it. One thinks of snow as silent, unlike rain. But the Northern ear knows that you can indeed hear snow. It's a high, crystalline ringing, all those snowflakes chiming together as they fall, in which even familiar sounds echo strangely. The same is true of the light, as it bounces wildly back and forth from flake to falling flake. Snowlight.

Snow skies are white skies. White sky, white earth: a unity of whiteness, earth and sky one color. A world of whiteness.

 

I read Moby Dick during my first January in Minnesota. In the chapter “On the Whiteness of the Whale” Melville expounds on the color's many meanings, from purity to terror: White Whale, White Tower, White Lady. The chapter climaxes with a ringing apocalyptic vision of a world entirely white, a universe dead of entropy.

And looking out my window, I thought: My gods, it's here.

Snowlight.

Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver.
"My country's not a country, it's winter."

Gilles Vigneault

 

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.

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