A Literary Look at the Art of Snow Sculpting

Artwork by Andrew Goldsworthy.

With a blanket of fallen nature – bright white sky reflecting bright white snow – something special starts this morning slow. I brew coffee with a contemplative gaze toward the yard; my thoughts are upon the cold covering that lays a new scene on sights I have found to be predictable.

I hold a hot morning mug and an empty mind, sipping slow and watching the quiet sheet sit motionless through the steam rising from my cup. It’s a meditative snowy morning, the roads a silent creamy river. There is no wind, no birds, and I step on the porch for a deep breath of heavy winter.

Looking around I don’t see hidden truths about the powers of God, I’m just taking a break; the peaceful air is teaching me to relax. Snow sits fat and heavy, as if enjoying a leisurely nap across town. The thick air of stillness leads me into meditation, an emptiness of thoughts. For now, I forget what I know – I forget about bills I need to pay and what errands need running. I find the beautiful peace.

I soon hear the only audible noise, a gentle rumble dampened in the foam floor off in the eastern horizon. It gets louder, closer, and I hear concrete scraping. The plow is here, a faithful and heroic Moses of winter America parting the White Sea for the escape from silence. It carries a sense of hurry and motivation for the day to begin. Even I have an eager fire under my toes to put on my boots.

The view now is drastically different; snow lays heavy through the woods and on rooftops while a straight slush carpet escorts vehicles around. People are out now, engines blasting to work, mugs filling at the café and blowers shoveling walkways. Birds start to peek out to see what the hubbub is about as a gentle breeze floats through town in an air of grayness. Only a few hours have passed since sunrise, that melancholy illumination of joyful clouds, and beauty is dissipating.

Being the community of beings that humans are, all minds become a unitary fade of winter movement. As a musical, the cars’ engines start together, windows dust off, and coats zip up. Our world within the world is afoot. With a Fish Creek bustle the day begins.

Plow piles are all over town. These mounds of snow have been unseated from their families and placed into the convenience of our travels. They cry out for the lethargy of their nap seen only a few hours ago. Round mounds of doze-formed snow, asking for a beautiful face, sit patient while the two-legged citizens rush for their tools. It is time to sculpt.

I grab a friend and a shovel to find the nearest stranger. We walk around in hopes of helping an innocent soul in their new sad situation, a humble heart who is helpless and dirty. We see a thick carpet from the road rolled up and dumped off at a corner. Perfect.

In sculpting we don’t act much in the creation process by planning and pouring over drawings. Rather, we re-create. We take a pile of snow and listen to what it is asking us to become. The great sculptor Michelangelo said, “The best of artists has no conception that the marble alone does not contain within itself.” Being mindful of these words, we don’t perform any artistic act of mastery. We help a mound of snow grow into what it seems to be: a bold creature whimsically reigning over its graying kingdom. Le Mar is his name, and he oversees the slow depredation of his natural home.

Dave Lueck and Dawn Patel partake in an impromptu snow carving in downtown Fish Creek.

I suppose snow sculpting can be a bit like this. There are professionals winning competitions in Breckenridge and sharing a talent with the world, but the majority of creation happens subtly. I re-create things for the joy of imagination; it may sound childish, but it’s art. When I allow time for expression, my mind seems to bloom.

However, many times when I read the news or hear the radio and I become one with this brave new world, I develop judgment and hatred. In such a sad machine of a human conquering place, my expressions of natural beauty are sometimes few and far between. I look to the stars and question “Why?” while they shine back, giddy in relaxation, trying to whisper words of knowledge. My trouble is taking the callused hands off my ears to listen.

Artwork by Andrew Goldsworthy.

This land speaks, and it’s depressing when it takes a major earthen makeover for me to hear it. I love Andrew Goldsworthy, a British artist, who takes the small creations of the natural world and mends them subtly. He has an eye for the always-present behaviors of the land, taking pieces from the earth and re-creating them to jump at the eye. He shows geology in a new light.

All too often, my gaze never leaves the road. I don’t see the danger of the wind or the beauty of a falling leaf. I live safely but expressionless. Recreation opens my mind to snowfall and wildfires and life of the deserts – the unpredictable elements of life.