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A few years ago I ran across Yasunari Kawabata's Snow Country. The novel's translator writes in an introduction to the novel:

The west coast of the main island of Japan is probably for its latitude (roughly, from Cape Hatteras to New York, or from Spanish Morocco to Barcelona) the snowiest region in the world. From December to April or May only the railroads are open, and the snow in the mountains is sometimes as much as fifteen feet deep.

Kawabata's descriptions of snow are some of the most satisfying I know, and I look forward to leaning against the bookcase and reading them aloud to myself until I feel the cold he writes climb up on me. Yet Kawabata's story of a man who can't love and the woman who loves him is so irredeemably sad that I'm never sure Kawabata's snow is worth the pain my memory of his characters' end causes me.

The earth lay white under the night sky. The brightness of the snow was more intense, it seemed to be burning icily.

Presently, as the mountain chasms were far and near, high and low, the shadows in them began to deepen,and the sky was red over the snowy mountains, bathed no win but a wan light.

The snow on the distant mountains was soft and creamy, as if veiled in a faint smoke.

From the gray sky, framed by the window, the snow floated toward them in great flakes, like white peonies.

The cedars, under a thin coating of snow, rose sheer from the white ground to the sky, each cut off sharply from the rest.

When I want North American snow, I turn first to books set in the Midwest and then to childhood books, to the Little House books. Little House on the Prairie, Little House in the Big Woods, et al. tell the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life. Born in 1867 in a log cabin at the edge of the Wisconsin Big Woods, Wilder from 1870 to 1889 traveled with her family by covered wagon through Kansas, Minnesota, and Dakota Territory. A section from Wilder's The Long Winter furnished material for what must have been my earliest childhood snow nightmares. A late fall snowstorm has hit the prairie. Cattle have taken shelter by the haystacks. Pa, concerned that the cattle will tear down the stacks, goes out to drive them off. Laura follows.

Outdoors the sun-glitter hurt her eyes. She breathed a deep breath of the tingling cold and squinted her eyes to look around her. The sky was hugely blue and all the land was blowing white. The straight, strong wind did not lift the snow, but drove it scudding across the prairie....

The cattle were standing in sunshine and shadow by the haystacks -- red and brown and spotted cattle and one thin black one. They stood perfectly still, every head bowed down to the ground. The hairy red necks and brown necks all stretched down from bony-gaunt shoulders to monstrous, swollen white heads....

They did not seem like real cattle. They stood so terrible still. In the whole herd there was not the least movement. Only their breathing sucked their hairy sides in between the rib bones and pushed them out again.... Their legs were braced out, stiff and still. And where their heads should be, swollen white lumps seemed fast to the ground under the blowing snow.

On Laura's head the hair prickled up and a horror went down her backbone.... Pa went on slowly against the wind. He walked up to the herd. Not one of the cattle moved."

Next, for Midwestern winters, I like Willa Cather's My Antonia, which has as its landscape the author's childhood home in Nebraska.

The first snowfall came early in December. I remember how the world looked from our sitting-room window as I dressed behind the stove that morning: the low sky war like a sheet of metal; the blond cornfields had faded out into ghostliness at last; the little pond was frozen under its stiff willow bushes. Big white flakes were whirling over everything and disappearing in the red grass....

The sky was brilliantly blue, and the sunlight on the glittering white stretches of prairie was almost blinding. As Antonia said, the whole world was changed by snow; we kept looking in vain for familiar landmarks. The deep arroyo through which Squaw Creek wound was now only a cleft between snowdrifts -- very blue when one looked down into it. ... The cold stung, and at the some time delighted one. My horse's breath rose like steam,and whenever we stopped he smoked all over. The cornfields got back a little of their color under the dazzling light, and stood the palest possible gold in the sun and snow. All about us the snow was crusted in shallow terraces, with tracings like ripple-marks at the edges, curly waves that were the actual impression of the stinging lash in the wind.

Winter comes down savagely over a little town on the prairie....

In the morning when I was fighting my way to school against the wind, I couldn't see anything but the road in front of me; but in the late afternoon, when I was coming home, the town looked bleak and desolate to me. The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify -- it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: "Thes is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth."

Mark Helprin's stories' and novels' surfaces glitter and shine with snow and ice. Perhaps no living writer, in English, does as well with plays of light over snow. In the prologue to Winter's Tale he describes snow falling on New York City.

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