On snow and loneliness

This is an antithesis. I dont’ see a causal relationship between them – in fact, in my mind snow helps lonely people. Not everybody, of course. Most people, if given a choice between snow and summer and heat, they’d choose summer and heat. But let’s be realistic here, this is never the choice. You can never choose between summer and snow. Not true, you’ll say. Yes, you can travel to a hot place when there’s snow here in the Northern hemisphere and you can go live in Australia or South Africa. Not so much now, during the pandemic, but you could, in theory. And now you see why this is not a realistic choice – most of the world would already move there if this was ever really a choice. In my non-fictitious world, the realistic choices are: would you prefer a winter with snow, rain or a kind of dry weather with plus 13 degrees Celsius and then suddenly minus 7 and darkness most of the day? I’d choose snow every time because here darkness – remains.

When snow falls, nature listens.

A. Van Kleeff
Nature resting under snow

Snow is white.

Snow is soft.

 Snow is light, fluffy and silent.

 Snow can be other things as well, but these are some of my first notions of snow.

There is also the fact – not in my memory –, but I was always told that the year I was born, it snowed in May – so you see, it is all connected.

The best moments of connection in our family happened when it snowed. We stood by the window, watching the first snowflakes falling and then there’d be slush and days getting ridiculously short. For a while we’d forget about darkness. Because Christmas period started and it was all jolly and shiny. When January and February came, there was nothing more satisfying then half a meter of snow and us, children, first learning how to sled and ski.

We had that old wooden sled that is a real rarity today. I hear it is called a Davos sled. I have no idea if ours were from Davos in Switzerland, in fact, I’m pretty sure they were made in Yugoslavia. We had about three sleds and they are all still working. The quality was great and there was no plastic involved. Every kid learnt how to sled, how to maneuver that wooden piece of joy. There was some serious fun involved. In the 80s and early 90s the mountain road was not yet cleaned of snow so fast, so as soon as the first 10 centimeters of snow fell, we’d either walk or parents would drive us 10 kilometers upwards and swoosh, down again. It would take hours to walk up and just about 10 minutes to sled down. Sometimes there were two or three persons on one sled – more than the recommended 100 kg the sleds take today – and dangerous road curbs we could just as easily fly over, but we didn’t. The adrenalin rush of my childhood we were all so eagerly expecting.

Then we learnt how to ski. First near the house, where parents could watch and then with other children a kilometer away – no parents present. We didn’t need them – we never even thought of them, because somehow when we were sledding or learning how to ski, we had each other – children from the neighborhood. A kind of solidarity formed even though we were not all really friends – there were cousins and brother, the rest were just kids from the area. We made a course with skis, stamping up and skiing down. We had to make sure nobody stepped on the course, so we carefully walked back up along the sides of the track. We held our old Elan skis on our back if we were tired, those were the best skis in the world. This went over and over again until the evening. We had some tea in a bag and maybe some food so it would keep us warm throughout the day. Then we walked home and we were so tired we slept at 7 pm. No cartoons needed, just a promise we’d go again next day.

Then sometimes there was a lot of snow. Those winters in Slovenia were not so common, but when they happened, my brother and I would make something big. Once we made a giant slide out of snow – a toboggan of sorts. One could have used a bobsled had it been longer, I am sure of it. We wanted to have a place where we could go up again so we thought of stairs. We built giant stairs and spilled them with water so they froze overnight. Then we just took a big plastic bag and slid down for the whole day until it melted away. When it melted, the spring was here and we had a different kind of freedom.

The top of Rokantiskes ski slopeSki slope Rokantiskes

Such idyllic images. No, those years were not ideal, but they were at least not lonely. Because we had connection, there was joy and laughter, we were all snow children, even the adults. Even though our grandparents and aunts and uncles told us tales of how they had to walk through deep snow every day to get to school, these were not stories of pain, but of some share connection and solidarity. After a freezing cold day they would all gather inside by the fireplace and told each other stories, sang songs and did some easy house chores.

This last year I especially feel any such connection between people is lost. And the pit of loneliness is terrifying for many of us. We continuously get told that we need to keep our distance – so much so that instead of saying hello we bow our heads when passing a person – not out of respect, but to hide out mouth and nose from aerosols of others. We feel more connection to the word aerosol than to the next person. This state od disconnection got so deep into our behavior in less than a year that it is scary. Sadly, in Lithuania people didn’t say hello to neighbours and strangers before anyway.

Like many people around me, I have not seen a friend, a friend I can hug, not just a hologram, for months. We cannot hold on to common rituals (really good video about how to define ritual to defeat lonliness here) that would persevere through time and keep us really, deeply connected. We are scattered around the World in different time zones, some are busy with their children or just trying to survive, and they do not even answer my messages, which I understand. I understand their pain and I do not blame anybody, but it does not make me any less lonely. In the beginning of the pandemic people reached out to each other, and then as time went by less and less. I have no community of ‘my people’ as my friend Andraž once called the people close to his heart. How can I  even have a community when we are told to stay away from each other? Have we also become lazy and believe in the survival of the fittest, the most resilient to being alone, instead of believeing in the survival of the community and the ‘survival of the kindest’?

My lonliness is killing me, sang Britney Spears. Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely had nobody and wished he could go back home. We laughed, because they are whiney pop songs. When strangers sent in the secret messages about their lonliness, some heartbreaking answers were read out in this video. No more laughing. It is heartbreaking what people do in order not to feel that horrible emotion inside… Sometimes people reach out to us and we don’t take it seriously and sometimes we feel even more lonely among people we share no connection with. I have no solution, the emotions are raw. Then I put on my ski pants and my legs lead me out to the fields of soft, light snow where I feel some of the joy and connection again – with nature. Nature is always the winner and it always offers connection if only you can listen.

I heard woodpeckers searching for food and other birds, children sleding down one of the few slopes and then I prefer the peace and quiet of the local cemetery. Nobody goes there even though it is right next to the ski slope. I prefer the resting graves, covered in fluffy blanket of snow. Loneliness becomes peaceful quiet solitude and happy childhood memories come to me, gently reminding me there still is connection and I am not alone. Cemeteries are not creepy, they offer us connection with our ancestors and we see family destinies through history. They offer some sort of deeper understanding of our ancestors and thye are inextricable ties between nature and community.

Kindness is like snow – It beautifies everything it covers.

K. Gibran

Perhaps you, dear reader, found some comfort in my words. I found it in writing and reliving my memories, listening to songs and other videos… Thinking that hopefully one day soon we will be able to form stronger connections and communities that will not be based on Zoom meetings, but hugs, walks in forests, laughter and in times of hardship, well, al those things again and again.

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