In the Whiteout
A Midwestern snowstorm is the closest I’ve ever come to living in a black and white photograph. Depending on the severity of the weather system, I feel like I’m inside the grainy halftone photo that accompanies an appropriately dramatic headline. I’m the tiny figure, hooded and huddled in a blindingly lit bus shelter, surrounded by swirls of white dust, back to the wind. I’m the speck of black in the whiteout.
There’s very little color in this world. The sky, once vibrant and blue, is now dull and completely white. Contrast has faded and shadows that were strong and rich have all lost their depth. Weeks or sometimes months pass before we realize we’ve forgotten what sunlight looks like, or that it was a thing we once enjoyed in abundance. We’re in the midrange now, gray and flat. This is winter.
I know there’s beauty in this season, just as there is in all the others, but here in the middle of the city, it’s harder to find. Here snow blows like a strong gust of wind, sideways, and often mixed with icy sleet and aggressive hail. As green as Chicago is in the summer, winter’s overwhelming lack of green is always a cruel surprise that I never feel quite ready for.
I try to look around with different eyes. I stare deeply at the angled geometry of bare tree branches, finding the tops and bottoms of every split and fork. I keep an eye open to the marbling of crunchy snow on sidewalk, the sandy and silty mix of shades underfoot. I watch as car tires kick up thick pancakes of snow, and as puffs of breath float into the air, little clouds released by those of us who are unlucky enough to be stuck outside.
In the street, the fallen snow is hardening into solid drifts, and the trees are sinking deeper into their annual slumber. Squirrels are digging frantically for the morsels they hid away just a few short weeks ago and crows stand sentinel, squawking wildly and pushing a sharp rhythm into the cold silence. Giant opaque icicles are forming, slowly, steadily growing longer and wider with every successive freeze and thaw.
I know there’s a beauty to it. I just have to look closer to find it.