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Finding Meaning in Chaos, One Snowflake at a Time

Shari Bender


Have you ever seen a snowflake?

I mean really. Seen. A snowflake.

As a lifetime East Coaster, albeit with a sunny California respite for college, I have seen many snowflakes. Snowfalls, snow showers, blizzards and everything in between.

In December 2020, my 23-year-old daughter and I found ourselves together in a cabin in upstate New York for two whole weeks. I won’t bore you with all the details, but suffice it to say my husband had to stay home for work and my 19-year-old son chose to remain there as well.

So, on a 2020-induced mother/daughter trip, we loaded up the car and began the five-hour journey north.  

My daughter, who has long since moved out and has her own life, career and path in Seattle, had decided to come home from Thanksgiving through the New Year since her housemates would all be doing the same. The Rona, as the kids call it, transformed her office job and graduate school to remote. She works in public health, crunching global health data and numbers to predict health outcomes, and her employer sent the entire organization to work at home from March 2020 to April 2021, earliest.

As you can imagine, this pandemic thrust her job into the national spotlight. A job which fortunately she was able to do with sufficient WiFi in a timber house nestled on a hill in upstate NY. I too am fortunate, as my work obligations can also be done remotely and on a flexible timeline. 

The first few days together did not go smooth as silk. My daughter’s bed was less than comfortable and the rain on the metal roof reverberated with a sound like thousands of tiny angry men wielding tiny little hammers, making a good night’s sleep impossible. 

Plus, in a small cabin with tricky acoustics, suffice it to say there wasn't much privacy. And the shower? Tepid water in the dead of winter is less fun than it sounds.

But we were committed to making the best of it. The pandemic had given Rose and me the gift of time together, in a place of natural beauty and wonder. I was determined to find meaning and stability amidst the chaos. At least for those two weeks.

The second day after our arrival, it snowed. I mean really snowed. Almost a foot and a half of the beautiful white stuff. 

For those of you in the sunbelt fantasizing about a snowy wonderland, let me tell you about trying to dig out a car with insufficient snow gear and one shovel. Quite a workout for this 49-year-old woman. My grandfather died of a heart attack, from shoveling snow. So my abundance of caution made this job take twice as long.

Why didn’t my young, triathlete daughter help me dig out? We had one shovel at the cabin, and I was up early. I figured I'd get to work and then brag about my impressive snow shoveling skills.

An hour later there was barely a path to show for all my efforts.

A neighbor took pity on me and approached with a bright yellow object. Another shovel! She was offering to let me borrow it. Reveling in my good fortune, I woke up Rose who leapt into action as a co-shoveler. 

An hour later, we'd extricated the car and shoveled a narrow path to the cabin door. Success! Now to reward ourselves with hot chocolate by the fireplace. Except there was no hot chocolate and no fireplace. Hot water in the kitchen it is!

This foot and a half snowfall started our time together in a true winter wonderland. Rose and I packed up our limited supplies and headed to Trumansburg Falls for a snowy hike. We had coils and spikes for our shoes and were ready to conquer the ice-coated terrain.

The idyllic scene was of course peppered with elements of reality — face masks and hand sanitizer. And a car filled with snacks and drinks since stopping for lunch was out of the question.

But it was magnificent. The falls had frozen in just enough places and nature’s icy landscape did not disappoint. And at the base of the falls was a mini snowman, his simplicity and elegance a sight to behold. In true Rona non-contact style, we asked a pair of college-age girls to take a photo with their phone and text it to us. They happily obliged and we returned the favor.

When Rose and I got back to the car, we felt like one of those icicles dangling from the top of the 215-foot drop. But we made it together.

Our two weeks were filled with many more magical moments. Sitting outside by the fire pit, with a fire made from wood scraps, roasting hot dogs on long sticks gathered from the yard. A nature walk at a bird sanctuary (no birds to be seen, but we happened upon a giant silver egret sculpture perfect for a snowy photo op).

After a 3.5-mile walk around Lake Cayuga on a clear cold day, tiny snowflakes began to fall. Soon we were immersed in a swirl of white, like two plastic figures in a giant snow globe. 

Mom LOOK! my daughter exclaimed, holding up a fuzzy North Face glove for me to see the most tiny and perfect six-pointed snowflake.

OMG there’s more! I yelled, as these amazing works of art fell from the sky and landed on my sleeve. 

I told my daughter I'd never in my whole life seen snowflakes this exquisite. I told her I didn’t think the snow back home looked like that.

She laughed, of course. 

I'd just never taken the time to notice.

2021 is my year to notice more of the wonders that surround us. I hope you'll join me.

Photos courtesy of the author.

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of nearly 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.

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