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An Australian snowfall. Not yesterday.

My name isn’t Miss Smilla but I do have a feeling for snow, well, a thing for snow at least.  Why a sixth-generation Australian (whatever that is) would have an obsession for the little crystals of ice that can fall on mountain tops is beyond me.  I was obsessed by it as a child, and again as a young man when a friend and I would go camping in the Snowies just so we could be surrounded by whiteness.  Now, in the potentially tricky ‘middle’ years, the obsession isn’t waning one bit, in fact it seems to be getting worse.  And let me say upfront that I’m definitely not a skier – on the slopes I’m only good at breaking stocks, over and over again.

Recently I was lucky enough to spend time in a place nearby where a snowfall was possible – a year ago to the week there had been an unexpected dumping.  As if trying to bring it on through fashion, I packed beanies, scarves, gloves, thermal underwear, and, most importantly, a pair of uggboots.  Day in, day out, I gazed south and watched as the telltale puffy white clouds formed on the ranges, but never did they make what I was looking for.  Then, however, on the very last day, the radio announced it: a major change was coming through and a snowfall might indeed happen.  So, armed with a plunger load of coffee, and a nana rug wrapped around my lap, I sat by the open fire and watched, and hoped, and almost prayed to the heavens.

Why exactly do I love snow so much?  It can’t be because of the Irishness in my blood, can it?  No, it’s not that (though surely the Eire DNA plays a part).  As high-falutin as it sounds, it’s because snow reminds me of art, all kinds of art, the best kind.  Snow is both beautiful and dangerous.  It absorbs light, but also emits light.  It is frustratingly unpredictable: it comes and goes as it pleases.  Most of all, however, it is the simplest of the simple, but also inherently – perhaps infinitely – complex.  It was the German-born US author and poet Charles Bukowski who wrote in his Notes of a Dirty Old Man, ‘An intellect is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.’  Do you see?  Snow, too, says a difficult thing in a simple way.

So did it snow that final day out in Woop Woop?  Well, yes it did actually.  In the evening, as I huddled by the fire and cooked myself a celebratory sausage, a sudden rush of wind bolted up the valley and dived down the chimney like a banshee.  Then, with a frightening VROOMP, it shot itself out of the hearth.  Stunned, I turned around and looked up.  Inside the living room it was snowing, actually snowing: little white flakes were falling slowly, silently, covering my laptop, my stereo, my CDs, my books, the rug; even the sausage I’d just burnt to perfection was covered in the stuff.

But, of course, it wasn’t snow.  It was three weeks’ worth of soft, fine ash.

All I could do was shake my head and laugh like a madman.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, August 23 2008)

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The past