Winter Fun with Sanskrit, and a Lesson in the (S)now

It has been snowing like mad around my part of the world, and our world’s a little different, visually, and rhythmically. Schools are closed. Offices are vacant as most people stay off the roads and work from home. Or, if they come out, it’s to play with the fluffy powder before it turns to slush and wash away.

As is often my coping mechanism, I make various jokes about Weather Gods, that maybe they’re protesting that awful bill in Congress right now, SOPA/PIPA, or that some Weather God is dreaming the snow level of Inception.

In one moment of curiosity, I went to look up Greek and Roman and Hindu Winter and Weather Gods, and discovered a fascinating link in words.

It turns out there *is* a Hindu God of snow, Himavat. In Sansrkit, himavant conveys “having much snow”, coming from the root word himá, for “frost, snow”. The Himalaya Mountains got their name from him for snow and alaya for abode or home.

In Latin, the word for winter is hiems, which is where we got hibernate from, “to pass the winter in a dormant or torpid state”. In French, winter is hiver.

Going back we have these words coming from the Proto-Indo-European ghei, for winter. And speaking of winter, the Proto Indo European root word of winter is rumored to be *ueid, or *ued, and if you say that out loud, you can see how that becomes wet, went, and then wint.

Around here in the Pacific Northwest, winter is living up to its name. It’s wet, cold, snowy, windy, icy and stormy. I’ve been on house arrest, snowed-in, and powered out. I admit, I have not enjoyed every moment of it, I wanted to get out, go do things and see people.

Intellectually, I know in some weird way, Mother Nature is telling me to slow down and chill out, literally, and that’s a good thing. Emotionally, I’ve been less mature in accepting this message. “I’m moving south to some sunny place,” I think, and I create alternative scenes in my mind where I could escape the present.

In Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson’s character—realizing that everyone has some kind of Golden Age Thinking, romanticizing the past and in denial of the moment—proclaimed, “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.”

Satisfying or not, snow or not, now is all there is. So I make a pact with myself, when I see snow and wish that I didn’t, I’d take out the “s”, and now it’s just… now. Sometimes I succeed. Most of the time I fail. And I make another go at it again.

Another trick I use is to remember a Thich Nhat Hanh quote:

“The present moment is where life can be found, and if you don’t arrive there, you miss your appointment with life.”

When something is on my calendar, I make every effort to show up. Why couldn’t I do the same with the present moment? When a bus, train, or plane departs at a certain time, I make sure I catch it. Why couldn’t I arrive on time to catch the moving vehicle of Now? Why wouldn’t I?

Not to be cheesy, (or, ok, to be cheesy), realizing this stops me right on my track. The track of reminiscing and fantasizing, and wishing that something completely out of my control wasn’t so, like precipitation from the sky, like ice on the road, like the electricity that I cannot summon with my sheer will.

Mother Nature, here’s to you for showing who’s the boss. Here’s to you, every winter god and goddesses in every culture and geography. Thank you for yet another reminder that for every Allegro movement, there’s an Adagio. Merci a toi, Woody Allen, for showing the silliness of our nostalgic thinking in a moveable feast of a movie.

The ice outside is melting, and I’ll soon forget my lessons. But surely, after spring, summer, and autumn, winter will come around again.

Bill Casselman: