Fifty Words for Snow

We have silence.
Written down from memory.
The thoughts are the speaker’s. The words are the translator’s.

We know that there is a world which is different from ours. We know it because most of us have lived in that world. When we turn away from it, it isn’t because we think your world is bad, or dangerous, or insane. It’s more like . . . You find a place that looks like a perfect camping spot, and then you look closer and see that it has one serious fault. It’s beautiful and comfortable and you don’t want to leave, but you know that you have to.


When you look at us, you see the things we don’t have. I want you to see the things we do have.

We have silence. To come back from your world to ours is to regain our hearing. When there is nothing to hear, you hear everything. You hear when the sled crosses the part of the lake that isn’t frozen through. You hear when the quail start nesting. You hear when the fish start jumping in the rivers.


We have darkness. When there is no light anywhere, you can see everything. You can see the glinting that means there is something different under the snow. You can see your snow house glowing from miles away. You can see a spark on the far side of the lake, and know that you are not the only person in the world.

We have cold. You think of cold as something to shut out. So do we. But at the same time, we need it. We need lakes that freeze through so we can travel safely. We need a heavy snowfall so our snow houses will stand secure. We need nine months of cold to make us value the three months of warmth.

Long pause.

It’s hard to talk about us—about our people. If I don’t say anything, you will think it is because we aren’t important. But maybe we’re too important to put into words. I could say that when you live in a village of fifty, everyone matters. I could say that the children are all of our children, and the old people are everyone’s grandparents. I could say that when you need help, you know exactly where to go and how to ask. And all of that would be true. But it doesn’t mean anything.

We all know the same things. If we had to, any one of us could survive alone at any time of year. But when you look at the village, you won’t see fifty of the same person. We’re not frozen. We value people who can think, people who have ideas. If you find a different way to do something—not a newer way or a more traditional way, but a better way—we will change.

We don’t do things because it is the way they have always been done. We do them because it is the best way.