There are poets, myself among them, who at times wax long on the serenity of winter. Certainly for those that venture into the world after it turns white, we know all too well the pleasure found in the still, windless bosom of the sleeping forest, or of the silence of the frozen river, or of the gentle patter of fat flakes fluttering against the fabric of one’s coat.
Yet it is not always thus. Sometimes nature attacks her winter canvas with most violent strokes, the white paint flung wildly about, the brush handle slamming the walls of your home, her screams piercing through the windows, and her icy finger tips digging into the eaves, prying up the very roof as if enraged that the inside of your home has somehow avoided her change in decor.
Sleep is fleeting on such nights, as your eyes start open while the whole house strains and groans, and lurches to one side or another. You wonder if indeed the roof might just fly right off into the night, and you along with it. Then, nature pauses a moment to catch her breath, and you slip off again briefly to that disconcerting dream from whence you came.
The mornings after such tantrums are surreal. Though the shades are not drawn, there is no light, for every spec of glass on every window is covered in snow. Outside, the town is nearly unrecognizable. What had been a car parked in my neighbors driveway was now a small bump in a sea of white. It is futile to even think about driving anywhere on a day like this. The snow plow won’t even come by until well after noon. Unconcerned, I sip my coffee in front of my warm stove, and take solace in my well stocked refrigerator, uninterrupted internet connection, and the fact that I work from home.
The next day, businesses finally reopen and I head into town for a ramen lunch, where after talking to the owner of the establishment, I learn that, though perhaps unwaranted in a structure as modern as the one in which I am lodging, wild fancies about the roof being sucked off your home are concerns not without merit in the countryside of northern Hokkaido.
Indeed, for those dwelling in older buildings, it is a constant balancing act of tolerance for how much snow is allowed to accumulate on one’s roof. The older generation has apparently learned the hard way that if you let too much accumulate, your roof collapses. Shovel too much of it off, and your roof blows away in the next storm.
Now wait a minute, you say, isn’t the snow supposed to slide off the roof? Sure, in an ideal world, it is. Just like the convenience store is restocked every day, and the snow plow comes every morning at 8 a.m., and money grows on trees. But in a world where the temperature drops down to -30C and snowfall is measured in deci not centimeters, if your roof is old, snow does not slide very effectively off it. Instead it digs in its crystalin claws like a cat up a tree and refuses to come down. And there it sits, for months on end, accumulating to ridiculous loads, until you either shovel it off, or suffer the consequences.
“Ah, the wisdom of the old-timers sure is something, ain’t it?” pipes the ramen shop owner happily, “Me, I think my roof is OK, but I haven’t the faintest idea because I don’t have time to check it. It’s all I can do just to clear away the front of the restaurant. ”
“But you have a snowblower don’t you?”
“Sure, I got one. But for lack of a place to keep it, I store it over on the side of the building.”
He gestures over to a narrow gap in between his building and the next, and I take a quick mental note that his roof is not that old, and that snow falls off it, and that he is now informing me that this is where he keeps his snowblower.
“And every time a storm comes up,” he continues, “it gets completely buried so that it takes near a day just to get the darn thing out.”
I thought about rhetorically asking what wisdom the old-timers might have to offer about this, but instead wisely slurped my ramen. After all, wisdom is one thing, and practicality is another. And here in the countryside, where time is expendable, practicality is rarely synonymous with convenience and efficiency. Life is unhurried, and change is measured by the passing of the seasons, or in the variation of snowfall from one year to the next.
After finishing my ramen, I pay the tab and remark to the owner how everything was just as delicious as it always is. With these magic words a smile lights up his face, he grabs a couple cans of soda and hands them to me. “For you and your wife,” he says. We exchange our thanks and I step outside. The snow had started to fall again and the wind was picking up. I get the feeling that there won’t be any ramen available tomorrow. But I’m not worried. The amount of snow on my roof is just right.
This is the first installment of a monthly column by Jared Boasen. See this interview with Boasen to learn more about his background.