Winter Wonderland

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Snow is an odd substance, isn't it?

I mean, yesterday was not quite as bitterly cold as the last few days have been, so I walked around outside for a few minutes and looked at the snow. And really, it's not very plausible, you know.

Yes, as a comic trope, the bit where someone tries to explain snow to someone who has never seen it is tired and usually racist. But it's still very odd stuff. If you read a description of snow in a work of speculative fiction, or perhaps saw it in an animated film, I don't think you would believe it.

I didn't really believe it until I was 17 and experienced it properly for the first time. I've lived in New England, on and off, for half my life now, and I had forgotten how odd the stuff is.

If somebody invented the stuff in a lab, it would be outrageously fabulous: this is made out of water! It's not ice, mind you—ice is pretty remarkable stuff itself. Heck, water is pretty remarkable stuff. You mostly learn about liquids in grade-school science, and it's all normal-sounding, but actual water with its surface tension and ripples and waves and condensation behavior— well, I'm not saying it isn't true, but it certainly isn't very plausible. Still and all, mostly, water mostly does the things that you learned that liquids do, back when teachers told you there are only three states of matter.

Snow, though. You can build stuff with snow. You can sculpt snow. With your hands. Well, if you have good gloves, anyway. It's a naturally-occurring form of water that you can pat into a shape and it will stay that way. You can plow a sheer wall of the stuff, make a twenty-foot tower if you have enough of it, dig a tunnel entrance though a fort wall. But if you leave it alone it will drift into dunes and the wind will make dramatic shapes out of it. It will compact into a surface perfect for sledding, and sometimes you can see tiny crystals spinning through the air like life's own sequins. Oh, and it's white—it's a bright white that would require in an artificial substance some outrageously harsh chemical treatment, and it just falls like that out of the sky. That's amazing.

I don't know anything about this kind of physics, but I suspect that the people who study, like, how sand works (and sand is pretty implausible itself, innit?) just shake their heads when talking about snow.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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