A portrait of snow
Gabriel Niforatos | Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Snow has always been a bit of a spectacle to me. I am from the desert, and there are years and winters when there is no snow entirely. In fact, the first time I bought a winter coat was over winter break during my freshman year. I can remember waking up when I was younger on the rare mornings when there would be snow and feeling a deep feeling of unexplainable excitement. It was almost as if seeing the ground and trees covered by sheets of glimmering white represented a potential of sorts. To my younger mind, that potential meant snow angels, hot chocolate and the possibility of school being cancelled, but over the years this anticipation has changed and grown. Now that I am at Notre Dame, where a large portion of the school year is spent in winter and snow, this perspective has changed even more. You see, I believe that snow is an integral part of the Notre Dame experience and that it shapes each and every student in its own distinctive way.
This inescapable part of our college life; a time when the lake crystalizes and the silhouette of the breath of students mingles with wisps from candles in the Grotto.
Of course, snow is an inherent consequence of meteorology, and there is nothing in the sense of concrete physical weather that sets it apart at Notre Dame. And yet, snow is inherently tied up to the identity of our school. Fr. Edward Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, captured the essence of snow in a letter to Fr. Moreau concerning the territory of and foundation of this school in 1842. Some of his words are as follows: “Everything was frozen over. Yet it all seemed so beautiful. The lake, especially, with its broad carpet of dazzling white snow, quite naturally reminded us of the spotless purity of our august Lady whose name it bears, and also of the purity of soul … ”
Fr. Sorin’s articulation presents a view of snow as a beginning and the start of a new venture. I cannot pretend to give voice to what Fr. Sorin thought when he undertook the task of founding a college in the middle of a wilderness. But I can imagine that he felt the same sense of potential and excited anticipation. In the packed snow and ice floating on the lake I imagine he felt a beckoning. A challenge to survive and best the conditions and form something lasting to reflect this tenacity. A university called Notre Dame.
Undeniably, there are countless interpretations of the value and meaning of snow to a Notre Dame student. There is a case of imagery. That distinctive crunch as you walk from class to class. The tiny shards of ice scratching your face as you turn away from the wind. The library framed in white like a Thomas Kinkade painting. The first snow fight of the year, the last home game for senior players and students. This is juxtaposed to the view of snow as marking an ending; an ending to the school year, an end to the calendar year. A time defined by the stress of midterms and returning home to leave friends. A time when you stand in frozen weather for three hours to watch our football team, because no matter how cold it is you can’t leave. All of these perspectives are threads in the tapestry of how snow defines a Notre Dame student. And yet the thread that intertwines all of these viewpoints is the change that time affords.
My older sister, Ariel Niforatos, is a senior here at Notre Dame, and her view of snow shows how the meaning of snow changes as we ourselves change. “I will always remember the way the dome would be lit up when I crossed the quad on a snowy night. For me, snow brightens up the campus. I remember walking back to my dorm and just witnessing the silence that snow affords. In many ways, snow holds the same novelty for me as it did in freshman year. It reminds me of returning home and watching the football games in freezing cold weather.” The themes of returning home, watching football games and taking finals and midterms while we are framed in snow are things that many Notre Dame students can relate to. And yet, the perspective of my sister shows that snow has created a contemplative reflection afforded by time. Anticipation and excitement for the road ahead will always be there. But snow marks the times behind us just as much as it does the ones ahead. Memory and reflection in the still space of snowflakes falling in the atmosphere.
In the same way as snowflakes fall and form drifts in the freezing South Bend winters, Notre Dame creates something that lasts forever. This is the vision and future that Fr. Sorin saw when he founded a school on the edge of a frozen lake in the middle of a wilderness. “That is my deep conviction,” Fr. Sorin wrote. “Time will tell if I am wrong.”
In the meantime, the snow falls.
Gabriel Niforatos is a sophomore who has diverse interests ranging from political science to music. When he’s not at school, he is busy hiking and running in the New Mexico mountain range. His email is [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.