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— The sky was hidden with a gray blanket; there was an unusual crispness in the air; a breeze, not especially strong, stroked the flesh but delved deeper into the bones.

That was last Wednesday morning, December 2, when winter arrived.

I know. Winter doesn’t begin until a few days before Christmas. I’m never sure what day it is; sometimes it’s the twenty-first, other times the twenty-second. I’ll check the calendar one of these days.

Winter doesn’t officially arrive until then, but there is always a day, sometimes in November and never later, it seems, than the tenth of December, when Old Man Winter, for me makes his first visit.

No, it’s not the sky, not the crisp air, not a galeforce wind fresh from the polar region that heralds the start of what used to be my favorite season.

I knew last Wednesday the season had officially changed, not because of any of the above but because I could smell snow.

Smell snow? You’ve gotta be kidding, you declare, and I really don’t blame you for shaking your head in disbelief. It’s still hard for me to comprehend, after all these years. I can’t explain it to myself, let alone to someone else, because there is no tangible, explainable reason for the sudden revelation that occurs on a non-specific day.

I’ve marveled at the ability to come to this nonscientific conclusion, because when I smell that first indicator of snowflakes it doesn’t mean thereis a snowflake in sight, that the possibility even a skiff of snow will occur or that it may be several weeks before the first flakes fly.

But sometimes they do and that reinforces that inner belief that something inside triggers an unknown sensation which leads to the inevitable conclusion that in spite of scientific justification the ultimate result is that, contrary to logic and provable theory, I just know. Whew!

As mentioned earlier, I have had this innate ability “all these years” and that ability stems from a“happening” that occurred when I was a very small boy. (I know, I didn’t grow much, but that has no part in this story, so erase that).

The happening happened on a mild day sometime in November or December, which really doesn’t matter, when, as was the custom in neighborly days, I was talking to an old man who was sitting on a stump in his backyard. He was doing most of the talking, as old men do. He had to be at least 50 years old. And I remember very little of that he said then or at other times when he discussed his “good old days”. But one phrase, one question, will remain with me forever as he looked me square in the eye and asked, “Do you smell that snow?”

The sun was trying to peek through a thin layer of clouds and I was runningaround without a coat, so it was an incredulous question. I sniffed the air. I sniffed again. And suddenly, without explanation, I could smell snow. I’m still in disbelief.

The old fellow went on to explain in a lot more words than this that if you hold your nose just right, and the conditions are right, and you take deep, deep breaths, you’ll be able to forecast an approaching snowstorm. Remember, it was mild and an almost shirt sleeve day.

That night, in downtown Sulphur Springs, snow fell. Enough to make a snowman, to have a snowball fight with a neighbor kid, enough to have a dish of homemade snow ice cream.

And so, every year about this time, earlier or later, I inevitably begin twitching my nose, taking deep breaths and testing the non-scientific theory about snow-smell.

It doesn’t work every time. I guess my nose is just not as sensitive as that old fellow’s. But I keep working on it. Are there any other snow-sniffers out there?

P.S. Since this was written, it is evident the old nose ain’t what it used to be. But judging from the forecast maybe it’s just slowed down a bit.

News, Pages 4 on 12/09/2009

Print Headline: Off The Cuff

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