Creative Nonfiction by Dani Nichols
The snow softens the sound of everything – the gate thuds instead of clanging, the horses’ feet clomp softly through the drifts. A week or two ago someone slid off the highway into a cow pasture – we heard sirens coming to help, but not the crash. Everything is muffled except my voice. I call for the dog and hear myself – my northern vowels and my country drawl – and I dislike it. I try to murmur instead, attempting to breathe in and out in the timbre of tranquility.
Ah, but such reflections last only a moment. Soon, my impulse is to pull out my phone, to make my focus smaller and less grounded. I haven’t listened to my voicemail, I haven’t read that email, I should probably take a photo to prove I went outside today, hmmm look at that podcast! Interesting!
My phone, as much as it pretends otherwise, is not reality. Reality is snow landing with wet insistence on the brim of my Stetson, horses nickering at my elbow, the dog dropping deflated soccer balls at my feet. Reality is stars winking out from behind cloud-cover, reality is the warm light of my back door opening and the plaintive voice of my 4-year-old son calling out, “mama you there?”
Yes baby. I’m coming. May I never forget what a privilege it is to be looked-for, even as I yearn to be left alone.
I feel my fingers stiffen in the cold – the joint I broke a year ago aches on wet cold nights like these – the quiet of snow is not what we imagine. We don’t imagine its killing power, how it can turn from beautiful snow globe serenity to burst pipes and dead animals. I hold my palms under the bellies of my horses, waiting to see if they are warm enough, hoping their bodies know better than I do what’s coming. They are warm and soft beneath a layer of crusted wet, the snow will not win tonight.
They grow hair without trying. Me, I’m an over-performer, a hyper-active brain. I have to numb out to relax, a glass of wine or a good movie give me the calm I need to stop scurrying around the edges of my life, looking for ways I could be better. I berated myself for every B I got in college. Every time I fail to measure up to my own impossible standards I haven’t learned the lesson I should – maybe it’s time to be OK with humanness – but rather have vowed to do more, to be above reproach or ridicule.
So I long for snow, the quiet of it, the forced slowing down it creates. Those from milder climates create deadly highway pile-ups when unexpected snow flies. I admit I cringe when winter comes around, watching inexperienced cold-weather drivers skidding across intersections and getting stuck in parking lots. Northern people, by contrast, drive through snowstorms like the snow itself drifts – big, sweeping movements, slow and steady, no stomping on brakes or speeding through turns, no panicking, no jerking the wheel. The world becomes a muffled snowbank, everything moves at the speed of falling snow instead of pelting rain.
If the children and horses are fed and warm, if the dog has a heat lamp over her bed and the propane under my soup pot is lit to a pleasant simmer, I can let myself slip into the rhythm of the weather, resist the need to Google the answer to trivial questions or scroll my newsfeed. To stop striving to make up time or do better. Snow covers the barn, the horse trailer, the trash cans. Like forgiveness, the big and small are covered equally. I have permission to leave the undone work until tomorrow.
I put my hands in my pockets and breathe in the brisk air. Snow is settling on my hat-brim, my shoulders. My horse nickers at my elbow, yellow light shines out my kitchen window, my son waves at me again to make sure I remember to come in. Tonight the job is hay and hot cocoa and footie pajamas. Tonight I should focus on comfort, warmth and rest, easing around corners without jerking the wheel or looking at my screen, like any good driver in a snowstorm.
Dani Nichols is a writer, cowgirl, and mom of three from Central Oregon. She writes about motherhood, family, horses, and above all, the relentless nature of redemption. Her debut book for children, Buzz the Not-So-Brave, about her lovable and quirky quarter horse, released in summer 2022. Her work has won several writing contests and has been published in Fathom Magazine, Oregon Humanities, Fallow Ink and others, as well as several anthologies. To read more from Dani, check out her website and newsletter at www.wranglerdani.com and @wranglerdani and @buzzthenotsobrave on Instagram.