Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889


By Edith Matilda Thomas (1854–1925)

[The Round Year. 1886.]

THE FIRST flakes of the year.—how doubtful, wavering, tentative, as though there were as yet no beaten path for them to follow in their journey from the clouds to earth, or as though they were unwilling to desert the goodly society of their kindred in the sky! The blades of tender autumnal grass look very cold, lifted through the scant coverlet spread by a first snow; one shivers seeing them, and wishes that their retirement might be hastened. The wanderings of the dead leaves are brought to an end by the snow, to which they impart a stain from the coloring-matter not yet leached from their tissues. By this circumstance the age of the season might be gauged, approximately; at least, the snows of the later winter suffer no such discoloration from contact with the leaf-strewn ground.

When the snow is damp and clinging, as it not unfrequently is at the beginning and end of the winter, a wonderful white spring-time comes upon the earth. Behold, the orchards bloom again almost in the similitude of May; the dry stalks in the garden undergo the miracle that befell the bishop’s staff in the legend, and deck themselves with beauty. Last summer’s nests are again tenanted, brooded by doves of peace descended from heaven. Every cobweb which the wind has spared, under the eaves or in the porch, displays a fluttering increment of snow. What a deal of wool-gathering there has been! The rough bark of the trees, the roofs and clapboards of the houses, are hung with soft shreds and tatters; the “finger of heaven” has put on a white cot. If we walk abroad in this new creation, it shall seem that we have been suddenly let into some magnified frost-picture; nor can we be quite sure that we ourselves are not of the same frail, ethereal texture as the exquisite work around us, and like it destined to glide into naught, under the arrows of the sun. When such damp snow freezes upon the branches, and afterwards falls in crusted fragments, the perforations made in the snow beneath resemble the tracks of many small, cushion-footed animals. One would like to know what Æsopian council, or palaver, was held under the dooryard trees in the sly middle of the night….

On a stormy evening, when the air is thick with flying snow, I have received charming suggestions from the village lights. Walls, roofs, bounding-lines generally, are lost in the snowy obscurity; but the hospitable windows remain, curtained, mellow-tinted panes, or curtainless pictures of fireside comfort, framed, apparently, by mist and cloud. At a little distance it were easy to imagine that these windows belonged to the ground-floor of heaven, rather than to any houses made with hands.

Though the trumpets of the sky may have been blown in its van, the snow, when it arrives on earth, abhors and annihilates all loud noise. How muffled and remote are the sounds in a village during a great snow-fall—all mutes and subvocals. Stamping of feet in the porch across the way is reported distantly sonorous, as though the noise had been made in a subterranean chamber. Across the high, smooth fields comes the faint pealing of a bell, mysteriously sweet. The bell hangs in the church of a neighboring village; I have often heard it before, but not with the same impression as now. So might have sounded the chimes in the buried church of the legend on a Christmas morning.

The snow has a mediatorial character. Wherever this earth approaches nearest to heaven, on all loftiest summits of the globe, there stands the white altar, perpetually: nor is the religion to which the altar is reared one of pure abstraction, colorless mysticism. Sunrise, sunset, and the winds, with the snow, bring out on the tops of our Western mountains (if current descriptions do not exaggerate) such surprises of form and color, whirling column and waving banner, as were never dreamed of in the pageants beheld by the initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries.