It looks like snow. Though the air doesn't smell like it's keeping any secrets.
Smelling snow is one of those Farmer's Almanac, Lake Wobegone-esque skills that my father has. He'll stand on the back porch in his nightshirt, a mug of coffee in his hand, and ease the pangs of an old frostbite from his free hand by curling it into and out of a fist. A few steps towards the border of the slate squares and he turns his nose towards the now barren hay field.
"It smells like snow," he says as he steps back inside, his feet making soft noises on the linoleum floor.
When I was little that's what I thought the smell of snow was: the still air curled up in the fibers of his winter flannels, a vague acccent of almond shaving soap and coffee. It wasn't until I was older and became his winter walk partner that the scent of a storm became distinctive.
Walking is one of those activities that has a mountain of identities to choose from. It can wear spandex and power its way through streets wearing a determined face. Or it strolls down the thoroughfares around 7 or 8, as Madrid's streets become crowded with people who "ir pisando huevos" literally, walk as if they were stepping on eggs. In English this would imply a certain hesitancy to broach a contentious subject, but since Madrilenos aren't afraid to do that, it means they walk slowly. Gambol, might be a better word. They walk, looking intently at shop windows and each other, talking.
My dad always carries his socks in his hand when he comes downstairs, pulling out one of the kitchen chairs to put his shoes on. "Want to go for a walk, Meggy?" he asks me. As a general rule, we stop for coffee on the way, listening to local radio. Sometimes we don't talk until we get to the creek, pulling into the gravel parking lot that slopes down towards the water. But walking encourages talking; something about moving steadily creates a foundation that words spring easily from, an active meditation.
Standing next to the water, watching it roil against fallen tree branches, ducks navigating the rocks, we pull our hoods over our heads and look at the leaden, gray sky. "It smells like snow," I say to him. He rocks back on his heels and breathes in. "You're right," he says, "it does."