March 26, 2014 —
Lately, I realize I take a lot for granted: everyday things such as the warmth of a sunny day, the laughter of children and the first bloom of the forsythia indicating the birth of another spring. When I first met Annie, I was moving into the last car of the train and noticed she was the only one in the car. Strange for the car to be empty, I thought, I would have passed without a second notice except she spoke to me saying hello and asking if Harriman was next. She had a pleasant voice and was looking right at me, hard to ignore and just walk on. I told her it was and was about to walk on when she asked, “Don’t you love the smell of the snow?” Smiling, I answered that I had never really thought about it. Annie asked,“Why are your smiling? Is it a silly question?” She then put out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Annie, What’s your name?” When I shook her hand and told her my name, she said “Nice to meet you, Tom. Have a seat.” So down I sat.
To best describe Annie is to picture a “librarian,” proper matching hat, dress and coat, articulate with a quirky smile. Next to her was a shopping bag full of books, with a loaf of bread sticking out, and I could see the wine was red. Turned out, she was up for the winter break to visit her folks in the country. She told me she would miss her students but was glad to get away. Living in the East Village, close to the school where she taught, she missed the smell of the snow. There it was again, this odd description of a sense experience I have never made the connection to.
We have been snowbound now for months in the Upper Delaware River Valley; the pines look beautiful covered in white, I listen to see if the plows are going by before rising in the dark morning, the sting of the cold on the car door has my fingers feeling numb. Yet I never noticed the smell of the snow. I am sure it is because my nostrils have been frozen for months, or maybe I have taken it for granted.
On Annie’s lap was a large book and I asked her what she was reading. “The New York Times Magazine,” she replied, I thought it odd to be so large a book. “We are running a bit early today,” she said. It was then I noticed the face of her watch was open, and she was tracing the dials with her fingers. “I get the magazine section of the Times in Braille from school, and this should keep me busy for a few days.” Then she added, “I could tell by your silence you thought it odd.” Oh no, not only could she smell snow, but she could read minds, too!
The conversation quickly turned to my description of the view outside the train window and her memories of sleigh riding in the snow during winter as a child. “When you are blind, every other sense works overtime,” she told me, “and the smell of the snow is as strong as the scent of a rose or a steak on a grill.”
“What does it smell like?” I asked.
“It is different for everyone,” she said. “To me it’s fresh, clean, bright and crisp. The scent fills my nose, then my cheeks start to tingle.”
“The moment, no, the second, just before the snow would rise up from my sled and into my face as a child, that’s what it’s like.” What a wonderful description.
As I helped her with her bags from the train, Annie introduced me to her folks as her “friend” Tom. Mom and Dad shook my hand to thank me, and off they went.
It was dark when I pulled up in front of my barn, rolling down the windows, shutting the engine off; I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. There it was, just as Annie had described, familiar as can be. It was as if I were smelling it for the first time. The smell of snow is beautiful.