Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Miss Sally (or My First Snow(wo)man)

Last Wednesday, I built my first snowman ever.

In seven weeks I will turn thirty-seven.

Before I came out to Wyoming for my three-week winter residency, I figured I would have ample opportunities to build a snowman or two or few. I knew it might not be as easy as it seems in movies and TV, so I was wise enough to ask a few of my coworkers who hailed from cold-weather regions for any tips on building one. The one tip I received—and it proved to be quite helpful—was to begin by simply pushing a snowball along the snow.

One afternoon, I strode out onto a hiking path by my writing studio with a field of snow. I tried scrunching and patching together one snowball but it seemed like a physical impossibility. The snow was too hard, too packed, too icy. At our communal dinner later that night, I told my fellow kindred artists that I was unable to put together a snowman.

The snow seems too hard, I asked. It needs to be softer, right?

Yes, I was told. It needs to be softer.

I pumped my fist. Even though I was unfamiliar with the dynamics and various types of snow, I had deduced this correctly.

A few days later, on a sunny afternoon, I stepped into my snow pants and slipped on my snow gloves. I stepped out into the patch of snow in front of all our bedrooms. I trudged a few steps to my right, with my goal to make a snowman near a tree outside my bedroom. I rolled a snowball—and it worked! Since I’m right handed, I rolled the little snowball along until it began to grow in size. About two feet from where I began, my snowball had come to resemble a large snow gong. Whoa, I said aloud. The tip worked!

Before long, I had a curved mound of snow for the foundation. For the torso, I simply piled together a rotund body. The entire time, I sat on the snow with my knees jutted out and my shins beneath me. Like this, I pushed and bunny-hopped all around the snowman with a pure smile on my face. My mind was solely consumed with scooping snow to pat together a snowman. Though I can’t remember playing at the beaches in Florida as a boy, I became aware that in that moment I must have simply looked like a grown-up version of myself playing in the snow. Substitute the beach for a snowy field, the ocean for snow-capped hills, my thick sweater and snow gear for my naked body covered only by swimming trunks. My smile, my complete childlike focus, was exactly the same.

An hour later, I had put together my first snowman—a lower body, torso, and head. I trudged through the snow and darted into my bedroom. I retrieved the rainbow scarf and beloved gray chullo I had bought in Arequipa, my ancestral homeland. Laughing to myself, I stomped back out to my snowman-in-progress. I placed the scarf and chullo on top of a nearby light post so I could gather the eyes, nose, mouth and arms.

Once I gathered pieces of wood soft and soggy from lying in the snow for days (and perhaps weeks), I only had the eyes to gather. At first, I planned to use the brown pellets that a rabbit that hung around our artist camp had dropped around the nearby tree, but then I thought it would be prudent to check out the various colored rocks and pebbles lying near our bedrooms. With icicles from the roof dripping on my back, I examined the pebbles until I found a small, beautiful olive-green rock. Then I sifted and searched until I found another one of the same shade. When I picked them up, I thought the snowwoman, not snowman’s name, should be Miss Green. It was a fleeting thought.

In the end, this is what I produced:

Miss Sally with my writing partner, Chepita

After it was decorated, I gazed upon it and smiled and laughed with complete glee. Once I took five photos of my first snowman, I was ready to joke to my fellow artists that it was the greatest thing I had ever created.
But I hesitated to name my snowy friend. I was unsure of its gender. After regaling my sweetheart, Maria, with a tale of my first snowman later that night, she helped me decide to name it Miss Sally since one of the male names that popped up for me was “Salvador,” which I could turn to “Sal” for short.

Although I knew Miss Sally was finite like everything we touch and see, and that she would eventually melt if the sunshiny winter Wyoming weather continued, I was not prepared for what would happen the next day. After another night of insomnia, I awoke with poor spirits. Like my snowy doppelgänger, Miss Sally reflected how I felt:

By midday, with the afternoon sun shining high above, Miss Sally looked positively sad. And being the sensitive fucker I am, it made me sad to see her in this deteriorating state. Though it made me sigh, I stepped out through the snow and knelt to snap pictures of her wilting away.

Just as I was about to head over to my studio to write for the rest of the afternoon, I decided, no, fuck you. I’m not gonna let her melt and die just yet. Like a superhero to snowmen everywhere, I marched back into my bedroom, slipped into my snow pants, laced up my gloves and walked back out to her, determined to patch her up, as I told my fellow artists later at dinner. This time, with a scarf my friend knitted for me and a beanie I’ve owned but rarely worn since I was a teenager, I gave Miss Sally more of a smile with her mouth of bark.

The rest of that day and night as well as the following day, I would laugh and smile when I saw her seemingly smiling back to us. Even when she started to melt again, one of her green rock eyes tumbling out, she continued to look happy. And as silly as this sounds, it made me happy.
After a windy late afternoon snowstorm, I took back my scarf for fear that it would get ruined. I scraped out Miss Sally’s remaining green eye. When I leave here in three days—which will be hard—I’ll take her eyes with me. This way, she’ll live on with me and all the other rocks I’ve begun to collect from my travels over the years.

Before I leave Wyoming, I hope to build another snowman. But I won’t use those green rocks for eyes again.

There will only be one Miss Sally for me.


  1. I love this. I have only made a tiny snowman once in my life, but this brings alive the experience for me, even though it was clearly such a personal experience for you. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed it.