The Secret Language of Snow*

February 19, 2013

snow covered branches

Qali n the twilight.

I’ve been thinking about snow. Considering where I live, this probably comes as no surprise. Snow is a part of life here, and for nearly six months of the year, it’s the biggest part of life. You don’t plan anything, or do anything, without considering how snow fits in.  Given how snow defines the parameters of life in the far north, you would think its vocabulary would be more extensive.

But aside from some meteorological terms like sleet, hail, ice, or blizzard (which really aren’t “snow” at all), we’re quite unimaginative when it comes to the frozen white stuff.  But other cultures defined by snow, like the Inuits, aren’t nearly as general. They’ve got LOTS of words for snow. For instance ….

Annui: “Falling Snow”

Api: “Snow on the Ground”

Pukak: “Snow That Causes Avalanches”

Qali: “Snow That Collects Horizontally on Trees”

Kanik: “Rime”

Upsik: “Wind-Beaten Snow”

Siqoq: “Swirling or Drifting Snow”

Kimoagruk: “Snow Drift:

Qamaniq: “Bowl-shaped Hollow Around the Base of a Tree

Siqoqtoaq: “Sun Crust”

Every tree on my property has qali on it, and I’ve got the mother of all kimoagruks in front of my house. Not to mention the one that keeps trying to take hold in my driveway. And tonight we’re expecting a lot of api. Now we’re talking! This is snow language I can really embrace!

The next time you look at a snowy landscape, take just a moment. What are you really seeing?


* The Secret Language of Snow is actually the title of a children’s book written by a friend of mine, Terry Tempest Williams. It’s the first book she ever wrote, co-authoring it with Ted Williams (the founder and Director Emeritus of the Teton Science School) in 1984. It’s long out of print, but if you ever stumble across a copy – buy it! It’s fabulous, and it still makes my Top Ten Best Books List.

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