Eleven feet of snow sits outside my door.

Not many people can comprehend eleven feet of snow. They hear it, and they think, well, I’m five and a half feet, so two of me…c’mon, you’ve got to be kidding. The snow can’t possibly be that high! True, it’s not. The snow settles and the bottom foot or so turns to an inch of ice, and it sinks even more into itself so that it is half the height it was when it fell, but that’s only after a bit of time.

Winter in upstate New York on the windward side of Lake Ontario can be harsh. Sometimes it feels like it snows everyday. White is no longer my favorite color and summer sounds like a memory of something I once used to know. I dread waking up in the morning because I am afraid to see how much more has piled up on the car, and my hands still have blisters from the four feet I shoveled off it yesterday. And let’s not forget the roof of the house, which sags and drips from snow that presses down and melts and seeps into cracks I didn’t know I had.

In the midst of all the cold white stuff, the chill that nibbles at my toes and ears, the wind that whispers through the frozen forest and seems to cut through every layer of protection I have on…is something very warm.

My sister just had a baby girl.

A couple days ago, just as a Nor’easter was approaching (a Nor’easter is a big snowstorm out of the Midwest that meets warm, wet air coming up from the gulf. The two are a bad combination. Lots of snow and blowing, no school, and hopefully plenty of mittens.), my sister called up the family and told us baby was on the way. My parents took off immediately for southern Pennsylvania, driving directly into the storm. They ran into all sorts of trouble: closed highways, tractor trails jackknifed as they tried to exit the highway, stranded motorists. The normal five hour trip took them thirteen hours.

My other sister and I followed the day after, hoping to avoid it all. Our father warned us not to take the highway. It was a mess, he said. But surely after a day the roads would be fine and dry, we thought. We drove south for two hours and found nothing to say otherwise. Clear roads and little traffic. Then a few miles into Pennsylvania the highway became patchy. At times only a single lane was free of snow or the globs of hard packed ice that thudded like rumble strips when we ran over them. Once we passed a lumberjack who drove his SUV, oblivious to the flat tire that made his car wobble like a bobble head toy. Then halfway to our sister and her new little baby that had been born in the night, we ran into a train of cars, that unknown to us, stretched for nearly seventeen miles. We sat and sat. Three hours passed and we slowly began to peer around and wonder where and how we would relieve ourselves in the middle of the highway with all the bushes buried beneath the snow. Then suddenly the way opened up and we were able to go sixty before everything came to a halt again two miles down the road. An hour later we made it another two miles to an off ramp and began trekking cross country, more disappointed by the fact that hospital visiting hours were over than by the fact that we had been traveling for eight hours and were still only halfway to our destination.

Unfortunately, the little town we got off at was nicknamed Labyrinth, PA. On the map two roads run through the town directly to other major highways. The map only says that because it would take too much time to draw all the little roads that wind through the town. Instead they just drew two lines to represent the general direction a driver need to head to get to those highways. Thankfully, after several wrong turns that kept leading us up and up a mountain, we came across a helpful Pennsylvanian who agreed to take us back to the major road we had gotten off on in the first place. We followed her SUV and strangely, after thirteen left turns we were several miles further south than we could have hoped. Sorely in need of gas, we stopped at a twenty pump gas station only to find out that they didn’t have any gas. We paid a dollar for the last gas they had and drove away to get lost again. We were in luck though, and found another helpful man who got us back on the right road in the right direction.

We finally arrived twelve hours after we set out, but who really cares when you have a wonderful little newborn niece to meet.

And wonderful she was. She had black hair, nearly two inches long that stood straight up like a crow’s colic, a chubby red face, pouty lips, and beautiful blue eyes the color of a summer sky. She snored softly, even as we passed her from hands to hands and only stirred after several flashbulbs and a dose of sunlight or two. Her wrinkled little hands clenched and her tongue poked out.

Dakota Skye Keller. That’s her name. A good name, I think. Proud and strong. I am certain she will grow into her name. A good addition to the family.

I remember the day my sister and her husband were married. Weddings are a fine thing, lots of fun, joyful, and exciting. But when it was my sister, and I was a part of it, it was even better, more magnificent, more real, as though all the weddings that came before were just rehearsals. It was the same when I held Dakota. Babies are fine thing, and our cousins have had a few and they are lots of fun to be around, but it’s something entirely different when the little life I held had sprung from someone close. It seemed more magical, more awesome, more joyous.

That’s the unique thing about my life. The deeper I press in to those things that are important to me, the more real and poignant they seem. And if you don’t know me by now, then let me tell you, these are the moments I live for. To be sure, there are snows, and icy roads, and moments when all the gas is gone and the road looks lost, but they matter little when those moments arrive.

© Seth Crossman