But when fresh snow falls something miraculous happens; the streets somehow seem wider than they did before, and the houses seem farther apart, and what had seemed confining and narrow in the world before recedes into the width of that uninterrupted white growth. All areas seem much freer; the world has much more clearance, as we might speak of overhead clearance in a pipe.
If I wanted to depict it beautifully, I would have to write it out in lines that were widely separated from each other, leaving the clean white paper between them, but the reader’s eyes would have to wade through the lanes that I left between the lines, as though you were strolling along through freshly fallen snow.
It is no accident that we always use both systems of temperature on thermometers: Réaumur1 and Celsius. If one wants to complain that the heating is poor in his house and that Lord, it’s cold, he proclaims (according to Réaumur) that it is “only twelve degrees;” had he said that it was fifteen degrees (Celsius) the weight of his protest would be weakened. If on the other hand he wants to claim that it is madly hot in his room, of course he will say that it is twenty degrees (Celsius) and never fifteen degrees (Réaumur).2 If he wishes to prove it is terribly cold he will of course use degrees Celsius, if he wishes to prove that it is too hot he will give the temperature in Réaumur. So it is entirely normal, that thermometers are manufactured with both scales, with a humane consideration for people’s needs to exaggerate a bit.
When there is snow on the ground, there is yet another way to measure the temeperature, and that is acoustically. If the temperature is just a little below freezing, the snow crunches nicely and deeply underfoot; if it is five below, it starts to creak with a rather high pitch; if it is ten below, is scrapes and resounds with a high, clear tone; but if it is fifteen below (Celsius), it whistles and cries in a terribly high tone, like a grasshopper rubbing the violins of his legs together. One might even say “Today the snow is two octaves above middle C." Snow is indeed so squeaky and shrill, it is like scraping a knife across a plate.
The nicest thing about snow is that it returns the inhabited world its virginity. The busiest and most disagreeable street has those short moments in the snow where not a human foot has trodden, and the first pedestrian steps out onto it like a sailor onto a new and virgin continent.
It is possible that snow is white out of physical or chemical reasons; I would rather believe that it is white so our northern nights are not so terribly black. Perhaps it is only white to be the frozen light of the longest nights.
1 [Réaumur scale. Simple conversion with Celsius: [°Ré] = [°C] × 0.8]
2 [sic] (20 * 0.8 = 16] But so it is in the original. Perhaps he's just being fuzzy with the math.