The world seemed beautiful to me this morning as I clomped through the snow on my way to a nearby coffeehouse to work remotely. We’ve had a few inches in the last few days and this morning a layer of below-freezing air beneath a layer of air warm enough to provide rain created the rare phenomenon of freezing Seattle rain, adding icy complexity to the already treacherous driving conditions that were keeping most people off the roads.
The quiet of a world besnowed always surprises me. There was only the sound of my boots crunching the thin icy crust over the snow on the sidewalk as a steady beat. As I approached NE 50th Street from a distance I heard the occasional swish of a car far ahead of me passing in the brown, sanded snow, what I call snud. My mind started turning over a work problem, a white paper on image server technology that I am on the hook for. For awhile I walked on without noticing much.
I snapped out of it when, south of 50th, I heard what I at first took for music being played outside or from inside an open window. I realized it was a large and sweet-toned set of brass wind chimes, and finally identified them suspended near the eaves of an old green house — a typical Wallingford Craftsman — voicing a slight breeze in a soulful baritone. I had never heard such pleasant wind chimes before.
Thus rescued from the inside of my head, I saw what was to see. The dark grays of landscape boulders and Douglas firs and pavements (where they showed under places where cars had recently been moved in attempts at travel) and roof shingles, and the dark green of rhodies and junipers and escallonias and ceanothus and rock rose all dropped back into the background as a kind of grayscale chiaroscuro with the invisible white of the snow, so that other things hailed my vision that I don’t normally notice — the auburn highlights in cypress and cedar boles, the copper glow of house numbers, the understated colors of the houses — green, blue, ochre. An eggplant-colored garage door. Tiny, bright red berries on bare, thorny twigs.
A smile unfurled across my cold face. Snow may have the incidental effect of buggering the commute around here, but for me its primary effect is that it makes me focus on simple things, thus serving as a recalibrator. Snow makes me religious. For one thing, I am one of those who believe in an actual God, invisible but not abstract in any way, and not just a power but a benevolence. It has not escaped my notice that snow, far from damaging plants, acts as a protective blanket on their roots and bulbs, keeping them safe from the extreme cold that would otherwise kill them in the course of winter. The beauty of this, which is patent to any skeptic, and the apparent intentionality of this process, which cannot be proved, ignites a little firecracker of joy in my heart. God is looking out for us herebelow. Despite troubles that weigh on human hearts, or rather in the fullness of those troubles could we ever see such fullness, everything will be okay.
The coffee shop (Mosaic) was open but empty. I had first pick of croissants and outlets for plugging my laptop into. I sat at a big wooden table with lots of chairs around it. The place is a ministry of the Nazarene church whose basement it occupies, but there is no hidden agenda and no assumptions are made about the state of your soul or your relationship to a creator, a higher power, or whatever you relate to. The point is to foster community. The menu and prices are decoratively listed on a big board above the counter as in many coffeehouses, but the prices are merely suggestions for donation. If it weren’t for this unusual pay-what-you-can ethos and the fact that it is located in a church, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t a regular coffeehouse. In addition to the large and uncrowded central space with its dark wood posts and dark wood tables and chairs and benches and sofas there is also a playroom for children and their families.
The music overhead, a shuffle of Adele, Steve Miller and the J. Geils Band, suggested a three-disc CD player somewhere in the back room or behind the counter. A half hour after I arrived, a young couple shuffled in and after looking over the pastries, took up residence a little ways across the room on a couch near a fireplace console and began kissing. The young woman did not remove her hat, which had a long bill on it like a baseball cap, and in fact it was the strange, slow, circular undulations of the upturned cap bill and its close proximity to the young man’s head that caught my eye and told me they were engaged in that bizarre ritual of earthlings, which always seems to me more bizarre when two people in public can shut out the entire world from their intense focus on each other.
I watched them kissing for a moment, his glazed muffin perched on the arm of the sofa. It seemed like the only thing I could imagine a young pair doing on a day like today when the world was covered in snow and not going anywhere in a hurry.