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  • Elizabeth Downing


It’s fifteen past the hour and a handful of tiny trills emanates from the gingerbread structure

down the hill. I’m close enough to appreciate the delicate wooden scrollwork framing the tower

but far enough so the splinters aren’t visible.

It’s snowing and it’s what you picture when you think of Christmas. It falls without interference

from the wind - if you drew the flight path from cloud to ground, the flakes descend at only the

gentlest of angles. Snow sticks to others of its kind gathered in piles along the sidewalk but

disappears instantly onto the black road. When I catch a flake, heat I didn’t know my fingertips

possessed dissolves it into a single clear droplet.

The bells ring again. It’s half past.

It has been like this for four days. The sky is the kind of grey that presses without oppression.

It’s the atmosphere laying a gentle hand on my shoulder in the quiet of a church and saying rest

here. I haven’t missed the sun because this is the bright kind of grey that underscores the

difference between snow and rain.

Were the temperature to rise by even two degrees, the sky would instead be pressing a thumb on

the precise part of me that finds it difficult to get out of bed. It would be the devil saying see? It’s

better when you leave the door closed. But the snow says oh, wonder. Every pile of flakes

reflects even tiny amounts of ambient light so there’s a glow bright enough to pierce my veil of

self-centeredness. It’s not much, just a few centimeters, but it’s enough to make me smile.

Once more, the tinkles of the bells match the rhythm of the sky’s product. It’s quarter till.

I’m in a round pool that’s melting the flakes in their final foot of descent. There’s leftover blood

reddening my cheeks from the warm water that’s heightened my internal temperature. Unlike

running in the rain, I welcome the sparks of cold that ping on the surface of my shoulders.

The bells do their work once more. But at the top of the hour there’s a surprise in store.

An entire song vibrates through the snowstorm. It’s tinny and electronic, a facsimile of the

German town-square song that it’s meant to evoke, but for two minutes there’s music in a sky

full of dampening agents. There is me, there is a pool of water, there is falling water, there is

warmth, there is chill, there is music, and there is very, very little else.

The trees bow under the white weight collected on their branches but they aren’t lowering

themselves out of sadness. Instead, they are saying look, let me show you my topside. Let me get

a little closer to the earth I came from. It’s a standing ovation to the marking of the hour but

inverted; a bow to the work of humans that created these sounds and to Mother Nature with her

magician’s wand whirling a vortex of softness.

When the song’s notes have quieted, I wave to the trees and gesture theatrically at the carillon in

appreciation for its fine performance. Then I catch another flake just as it disappears into liquid.

The second half of winter is here. It is marvellous in the way things can be when they are drawing

to their end.


Elizabeth Downing is a writer, photographer and fiber-based artist in Utah. Her writing explores the conversion of small moments to larger meaning on a two year trip across the American West during the pandemic. Her visual art installations and wall-mounted pieces explore how surfaces tell stories of what lies physically and temporally beneath. Both of these bodies of work ask about what happens amidst change, whether we absorb or amplify. This work asks questions about surfaces, the underneath, and how those changes resonate.

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