★★★ Contrails were all around, spreading out or meandering or being laid down sharp and fresh in the direction of Newark. By now some of the snowbanks had flattened into sheets or comforters, their undercut edges floating a quarter inch above the sidewalk. A row of overlapping concentric ripples collided in the long puddle at the edge of a scaffold, under a constant barrage of dripwater. A skunk smell floated up Lafayette in the vicinity of the lined-up skate-wear shoppers. Misery was in full retreat. On the way back in the evening, the water was still splatting from the same scaffold, undiminished.
★ Morning was simultaneously mild and raw, the arctic harshness replaced by a damp chill coming off the snowpack. The view from the prospective apartments was mud-colored all around. A BMW, unable to wait behind a garbage truck, pushed through a slush pile and sped the wrong way down a one-way street. The dark gray grew darker, and some sort of rain began to fall and steam on the driveway. The raindrops were splatting, or maybe it was the dripping meltwater that was splatting; the falling wetnesses were undifferentiable and terrible. Downtown, it was a full, drenching rain. Umbrellas were out. The non-rubber boots were wet, the jeans were wet. It was tempting to jaywalk to get out of it faster, but the ice banks on the far side of the street offered uncertain passage. There was a bearable moment of afternoon sun, when it was possible to stand on the fire escape in short sleeves, smelling something organic on the warming air. But by evening the dripping rain was back again. The newly bought umbrella pinched a finger, the wet ice was slippery underfoot, and the puddles were so wide as to be almost impassable.
★ White swirled enthusiastically outside the morning windows, subsided to gray, then went white again before stopping. The construction workers pushed more snow off the top slab of the rising apartment building. Outside, the slush underfoot was gluey. New accumulation highlighted and exaggerated the contours of the old dirty snow piles. Double parkers were giving themselves permission to sit further our in traffic than usual. A steam chimney vented down Central Park West, turning the people clustered outside the Park into an indistinct mass. Only flashing emergency lights and an acrid smell distinguished the scene of a wildly smoking manhole fire from the ubiquitous grayness. At the crosswalks, clambering over the snow was a better bet than trying to ford the slush that flooded the cleared parts. The sun came out and the fire escape dripped. A babbling gutter-stream undercut the snow heaps.
★★★★ Through the western trees, the descending moon was fat and yellow-white. It was still dark, but the dog was whining and the birds were chirping. After an interlude of not very long, the toddler started chirping too, from the other side of the house. He wanted to see the moon out of the windows there, where it had been at bedtime, but had to settle for the sun. Back to the west, pink and tangerine light was in the tops of the drab trees, quickly descending the limbs and trunks. The colorless sky turned a saturated blue. Outside on the feeders and branches and the fence, over the yard full of dense and undulating snow, were three-four-five bluejays, three-four male cardinals and as many females, innumerable little juncos and white-throated sparrows. One mourning dove was in among them, placid amid the little squabbles. Titmice made forays from the dormant trumpet vines. A goldfinch clung to the dangling sack of finch-food, a patch of bright spring yellow blooming at the throat of its dull winter plumage. The first-grader could walk on top of the snow. Fallen oak leaves, heated by the sun, had sunk an inch deep into the crust, their lobes and stems traced perfectly in negative space. The deer had sunk footprints into the snow when it was soft, then left later prints on the surface and piles of droppings within 10 feet of the house. A few chickadees had finally showed up, and would fly right up to the feeders if humans stood still enough nearby. Everything indoors was a wash of green after the snow-brightness. The bigger birds arrived in their mixed flock—blackbirds, starlings, the grackles with their oily sheen and staring ivory eyes—alternately bullying the earlier birds and flinching away en masse at sudden sounds. The Cooper's hawk was nowhere to be seen. There were potholes in the highway back to the interstate. A shelf of snow hung ominously off the top of a tractor trailer crossing the Susquehanna. Traffic was light and free-flowing, with the sun at its back. A stainless-steel refrigerator and stove flashed in the bed of a pickup truck. The daylight lasted all the way up to the Lincoln Tunnel and through it. A band of purple-red lay just above New Jersey like a second horizon. In the deepening dusk, a pale horse trotted down Ninth Avenue, the hubs of carriage wheels glinting behind it. The potholes were the worst yet. One last surprising glimpse of bright blue appeared in the sky, in the space opening up behind the rack of cars, stacked four high, at the end of the parking lot.
[No stars] Snow rippled through the air outside the shades like bedsheets being shaken. Clots of slush stuck to the windows. The preschool had robo-called to say that of course it was closed; incredibly or conventionally, the public school was open. The schoolyard, three blocks north, faded into the whiteout. To the south, a stubby little plow cleared a narrow path along the side of the high school, its lights battling the swirling storm. The visibility improved with a little waiting, but it was a deceptive improvement. Instead of big flakes, there were sharp flecks of ice blowing down Amsterdam. "Lovely day," a construction worker said, huddled under the scaffolding, as a coworker trudged up with a hot beverage in his grip. "He means the opposite of what he said," the first grader said. He staggered and stumbled, trying to stay in the lee of a staggering and stumbling parka-clad adult. "Right now," he said, "the snowflakes are like the blades of a knife." People covered their eyes with their hands, as if in grief. Boots skidded on the downslope to the school doors, requiring a painful correction through the lower back. The halls of the apartment building were full of a burning-oil odor, carried all the way up the stairwell from the snowblowers going in and out of the basement. The visibility improved, then got worse again. The snowflakes were replaced by something invisible, then returned as huge cartoonish fluffy things, traveling horizontally on the wind. A few of the fluffy chunks caught an eddy right outside the window and drifted in the opposite direction, while the mass of the rest rushed by. The wind whipped at everything pliable on the next building's balconies—a furled shade umbrella, the plastic cover over cardboard boxes, a flapping tangle of who knows what. Things settled into a soaking drizzle, over slush puddles too wide and numerous to avoid. Coming home, the first-grader's jeans cuff popped out of one boot and grew waterlogged. The storm was broken as a snowstorm, but it continued, a soggy ruin. In the dark, there was thunder. The forecast had suggested thunder-snow, but the windows looked out on nothing but ordinary drenched lightlessness.
★★ The ice in the Hudson had formed a single thin white band down the middle of the channel, like a lane divider. The sky was grayish blue, the snow was grayish white, a grayish gleam bounced off Broadway. The roadway had been salt-lightened and the sidewalk grime-darkened to the same pencil-lead color. Gray got grayer, till the evening, when it all turned blue. A blue van with its lights off came roaring up out of it, after the cars with headlights had all passed. The 1 trains were untenable, but the cold walk up past Lincoln Center was more boring than painful.
★★ Frozen and dried into rigid unchangeability. Hard ice and salt crust coexisted on the sidewalk. A dog lifted a leg to urinate against a mound of uncollected blue bags, one of a series of piles laid out for carefully separated non-collection. A woman was ascending the subway steps with silver ornaments in her boot heels and a fluffy black fur hoodie adding an imperious extra inch or two to the top of her head. The late breeze rattled stiff trash bags and the dead leaves clinging to one small tree.
[No stars] The snow from overnight, now the newest old snow, lightly covered the older and dirtier snow. On cars that had been driven, melted patches showed the ghostly pattern of the internal structure of their hoods. To the east, the sun on the whiteness and the wetness gave everything a spurious pristine shine. The cold was bleak, neither shocking nor capable of being ignored. Breath steamed on the subway platform at noon. A man walked by with his hands thrust in the high pockets of his pea coat, the posture even more pinched and uncomfortable-looking than hands-in-pea-coat usually is. The ground presented every sort of leftover slipping hazard: watery slush, packed glazed snow, refrozen invisible black ice, thick slippery ice-slabs—all demanding the most tedious sort of careful attention. An immense chunk of asphalt had been blasted out of a pothole on Broadway, leaving behind two sibling chunks rattling loose in the crater. A sliver of distant sky at sundown was in lovely shades of violet, if you took an eye off the dangerous footing. At night, bleached light bounced off the sparsely populated sidewalks of Times Square. People were still sitting on sidewalk stools to have their caricatures drawn.
★★ Frozen staleness, made interesting only by its treachery. A long coffee stain stretched across the top of a snowbank. Drips from an idling cement mixer had cut a hole in the ice and washed clean one small spot of the white crosswalk marking. Sixty-sixth Street was still full of grainy brown slush. Downtown at the curbsides, the slush had refrozen, the transitory deep ruts and footprints now locked in stony hardness. The treads of the fire escape were paved with slippery humps of hard ice. An airplane was passing in the daffodil-colored light, and the view from the roof was probably beautiful, if there had been a way to get up to the roof. The evening streets were slick in the most innocuous-looking stretches. Up on Broadway, the used book guy cried out and hacked at the ice pack with the side of a shovel, swinging it in big overhead strokes, with a new cry each time the blade came down.
★★★★★ "It's so fun, the snow," the toddler said, with the confident judgment of innocence. The world was suiting his desires now at midday. He had been up and yelling at half past three in the morning, most likely stirred by the brilliant pink glow coming through the windows, the unreal snow light. I want to sleep in the big bed. The glow had also pulled the adult further out of grogginess than usual, into competence: No. Lie down. No. Go back to sleep. Now. By the time everyone woke up again, the pale blur of fresh, accumulating snow had changed over to something else, wet and grotesque. Ice was building up on the windows; sheets of ice were bursting loose and coming flipping down through the air, end over end, dozens of fragments plunging past like titanic snowflakes: the size of dollar bills, sheets of paper, shoebox lids. A broken triangle as big as the top of a coffee table. Meteorological-architectural horrors. The drizzle outside was imperceptible if you had your back to it, harsh if you turned to face it. Lakes of loose slush swelled behind dams of firmer slush. The trees were glazed and stubby icicles dangled from a restaurant's festive outdoor light bulb strands. Strollers wallowed or jammed to a halt. Crossing the median of West End with one required a portage. The basic urban assumption, that things would ultimately be passable, was null. The trains were by all accounts hopeless. The toddler, in his lurching stroller ride home, wanted nothing more than to get his rubber boots on and get back out, at once. So: "So fun!" The little boots tramped an excited loop in the snow in the building garden. By now the drizzle had turned into a light rain, darkening the child's coat. Apocalyptic ice fragments were still plummeting and shattering with each new gust of wind, but up close they were paper-thin, harmless. It took no effort at all to make dense snowballs, or a tiny, heavy snowman. For eyes, there were the bud-ends of freshly killed green twigs, strewn on the frozen top crust.