I am a snowflake

Right now I’m watching a snow storm blow and swirl and gust outside my window, a day later than expected, but still here, still covering the frozen ground in white, filling the air, turning everything monochromatic.

And it is beautiful.

Rose of Sharon seed pods covered in snow in my back yard.

Rose of Sharon seed pods in my back yard.

Conservatives like to call people like me (young, liberal, well-educated) “snowflakes,” because we are “overly sensitive,” “can’t take criticism,” are “ sore losers,” and and and.

Once I went to a party dressed as One Hundred Years of Winter, and the title suits me. I prefer the cold months to the heat of summer. I hike in blizzards, reveling in the way snow enforces quietude. Have you ever noticed the sound of a snowflake hitting your jacket? The gentle, almost imperceptible tick? The way those ticks accumulate faster than you expect, until your shoulders are transformed into snow-capped mountains?

Have you ever, as an adult, tasted the not-quite-metallic tang of freshly fallen snow? Have you paused to let it melt in your mouth, momentarily chilling your lips and tongue? Have you stopped to acknowledge the beauty of white on naked branches, so distinct from the beauty of summer’s verdant greenery?

But snow is not just beautiful.

Snow is cold and biting. Snow stings. Snow cripples cities, layering on roads faster than plows can scrape it away, burying cars. Snow isolates people in rural areas, cuts them off from emergency services and the grocery store. Snow smothers people unlucky–or unwise–enough to get caught in its drifts. Snow weighs down the roofs of houses until they collapse on themselves.

On its own, a single snowflake may do nothing more than fall, invisible, inconsequential. Snowflakes rarely fall alone. Most people–perhaps even you–fear their force, and for good reason.

A single snowflake can’t kill you, but a blizzard can.

So if you want to call me a snowflake, call me a snowflake. That word holds no sting for me. I staked out my winter territory long before this debate. I’ll be here when you’ve forgotten it.

Winter blessing Spring

The snow melts slowly over the candle flame, first compacting into slush and then pooling at the bottom of the mason jar. Sakura-scented incense smoke rises and curls above the altar as I hum a chant, my prayer to spring.

When the snow transforms completely to water, I begin the work of planting seeds for my garden—my first garden in my first house. A slight breeze finds its way to me through the open window, along with the sounds of children riding scooters up and down the street, calling out to each other, laughing.

I fill each egg carton cell with soil and carefully place each seed. Tomato, eggplant, celery, radish, turnip, beets, fennel, sugar snap peas, parsley, mint, dill, thyme, basil, lavender, sunflowers, coneflower.

Some of these—tomato, eggplant, peas, the herbs—I have grown before, and others are new to me. I have been reading book after book on gardening and growing food, but I learn best through experience, through working the soil loose with my hands and watching leaves and flowers unfurl.

For a final blessing I sprinkle each cell with a few drops of the melted snow–a promise for renewal, for growth. I place each egg carton in recycled plastic containers and set them on my windowsill. With dirty fingers and a happy heart, I snuff out the candle and offer thanks to the earth, to the sun, for the gift of seasons, of change, of new beginnings.

A gift from the New Zealand sky

“The Milky Way” by andyspictures

The first time I touched the universe, I stood outside the Paparoa Marae near the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, surrounded by dozens of people I barely knew. I was thirteen and almost ten thousand miles from home on a three-week trip with People to People Student Ambassadors. After our traditional Maori dinner of meats and vegetables slow-cooked by heated river rocks in the ground, I looked up at the sky.

The milky way, clear as the sun during the day, spread out in gentle waves above me, and I am sure that every single star visible to the naked human eye from the Southern Hemisphere burned its mark on my soul. I felt like I must be looking at a photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope, because I couldn’t believe something so beautiful, so expansive, so true, surrounded me.

My world stood on the edge of change. In a few days, I would experience my first kiss under those same stars. In three weeks, I would return to the United States and start high school. In two months, the World Trade Center would fall and my country would launch a war that would, in many ways, define my adolescence.

Left alone, I would have been happy to sit outside in the cool winter air, staring up at those points of light. The longer I looked, the more individual stars became clear, each one a gift from the night. In return, I gave something to the night that I still cannot put into words, something beyond words.

I didn’t understand the significance of that exchange right then, but from that moment on I tried to get back to that feeling of complete connection with the universe. I wanted to feel like I was a part of something, like I mattered, like my words mattered.

I mostly failed for the next seven years. Things seemed to disconnect all around me: in domestic politics, environmental degradation, an ongoing war that echoed Vietnam, the angst and endless existential crises of teenagehood, a failing belief in the religion I’d grown up with. It took another trip across an ocean for me to find that feeling again in its purest state.

On that second trip I finally understood the gift, the wisdom the stars meant to give me: You do not need to travel across an ocean to touch the universe. You simply have to be open, and it is easier to be open when you have crossed an ocean, don’t know anyone, and are worn down and ragged from travel and jet lag. But if you know your walls are there, you can choose to take them down, and the stars will reveal themselves to you wherever you stand.