The most joyous precipitation

Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger

Of the many precipitations that fall upon us, I think you’ll agree that the most pleasurable and stimulating of them all is a sticky snow – like the one many of us woke to yesterday.

Only a sticky snow stirs a wide variety of both sensory and intellectual pleasures. Unlike a drowning downpour of rain, a pelting of hail or a stinging windblown sleet, a sticky snow soothes and draws onlookers in with its simple charms.

What charms could a sticky snow possibly possess?


You begin to discover these appeals with your first step onto the cookie dough-like snow. It moans and groans as your foot crushes it, revealing a fact that you are normally unaware of: that your footstep actually takes up to a half second to press down and lift from the ground. As your foot rotates from heel to mid-foot to toes, it applies different pressures, signaled by the changing “voice” of the snow. 

Most importantly, sticky snow audibly alerts you of your imprint on this earth.

The audio record may be short-lived, but the visual record of your footprint can last for days. It joins you with the wild family of tracks recorded by sticky snow. Your tracks mix with those of a dog, rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, deer and a crow. Maybe a fox or coyote, too.

Sticky snow awakens more senses as you move across it. Scoop up a handful of sticky snow and you’ll find it conforms comfortingly to your hand like a ball of bread dough or cookie dough or a cranberry muffin, evoking the many senses aroused by a past morning spent baking.



The visual aspect of sticky snow can also evoke past baking efforts. The dribbles, drippings and dustings of snow spatter like frosting across berries and branches, fields and even fenders. They remind you of frosted treats and the bowls to be licked clean.

The right kind of sticky snow transports you beyond the kitchen into a fairyland drive through a once dreary landscape transformed into a gallery of artful scenes. With sticky snow, yesterday’s drab fields and woods turn into mesmerizing etchings. The unharvested apple tree becomes an ode to Christmas ornaments. The paved curving road sweeps through a painting of a forest. The old barn seen against a snowy backdrop becomes a temporary masterpiece; the red tractor glows invitingly, and the abandoned junker becomes an iconic vintage model.



This transformation can be a bit unsettling, yet invigorating and renewing. The drab can become dramatic. The banal can become beautiful. Snow can restore a sense of hope in a dreary season.

But tomorrow the magic will be gone. And the next sticky snow may be in feet, not inches.


Derek Doeffinger spent a few decades at Kodak explaining how people can take better pictures and then encouraging them to use Kodak products — especially digital cameras. That last part didn’t quite work out. Fortunately during his Kodak days he became an obsessed outdoor photographer, especially of Finger Lakes waterfalls. He’s written several photos books about the Finger Lakes and digital photography, and now has written quite a few articles for Life in the Finger Lakes.

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