This chionophobiac says 'no, don't let it snow'

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

This chionophobiac says 'no, don't let it snow'

HERE I go again! A little dusting of the white stuff on the lawn this morning and I collapse in a state of panic. I’m half expecting to be trapped under an avalanche from Tountinna Mountain, which glares at me moodily from across the hoary fields. This condition is called chionophobia - or fear of snow – and, as far as I can see, the whole country has it, for I’ve never seen such a reaction to a fall of snow in my life.

On the other hand some of my friends in Limerick have a different condition altogether – a dose of snowphilia, or love of snow and feel a bit short-changed with the few snowflakes they got at the weekend. They’re always dreaming of a white Christmas, but what about fellow humans like me who tend to break out in a cold sweat at the mere prospect?

The thoughts of a heavy snowfall fill me with dread, and how, or when, I developed this phobia is a complete mystery to me. All I know is that it’s a fairly recent development.

I certainly didn’t have it when I was young. I can’t believe that I actually prayed for snow when I was a child, not to get a day off school, mind you, but to relieve what Kavanagh once described as “the tedium of normal weather”.

I never stayed at home from school on a snowy day mainly because the snowflake generation was still decades away and also because school always tended to be much more interesting when the elements were at their fiercest. For all I know, the master himself could have been a chionophobiac. He always seemed to be in a state of paralysis when it was snowing outside. He hogged the coal fire but he never knew what to do with us, which suited us just fine.

Life in general never did come to a standstill during the snowstorms of my childhood, although I don’t know what would have happened if we had received yellow, red and amber warnings from the Met office beforehand. I think we might well have panicked. Our parents had lived stoically through Black ’47 when it snowed non-stop from Christmas until the end of March and none of them, as far as I can recall, suffered from a snow phobia. I was in the womb then, so maybe I’m experiencing a touch of post-traumatic stress.

What’s wrong with the rest of the country though? You’d think we never saw snow before, the way everyone is reacting. The hyperbole is stressing me out and making me feel trapped, cut off from the world and in real danger of starving to death because I didn’t stock up when I got the amber warning. But if I had, I’d have no room for the Christmas fare.

They say that chionophobia is caused by, or related to, a childhood trauma involving snow. As far as I know I was never trapped under an avalanche or never slipped and broke a bone on a hard packed piste, like some of my friends. I’ve never skied in my life. I do, however, remember a snowy day at school when I was about nine, when someone came in and said it was snowing so heavily outside that you couldn’t even see your hand. The local sergeant, who was a close friend of one parent, had come to drive us home. I ran out and jumped into the car first, a presumption of entitlement that seemed to irk him intensely. He ordered me out of the car, telling me to stand back and let the smaller people in first. The smaller people were all at home snug as bugs. The car filled up rapidly and in the end there was no room for me. I stood there forlornly as he drove away and the only consolation for me, on the two mile trudge home alone in the surreal whiteness under a darkening sky, was that at least I could see my hand.

The sergeant, long since deceased, moved to another area shortly after, and it was just as well, because my father had threatened to wring his neck, while he, on the other hand, was destined for greater things.

He eventually rose to the very highest level in the force.

But I doubt if that incident was the source of my current affliction. If it was, then it sure took a long time to manifest itself. I don’t even know when I first became aware of my chionophobia, but I do know that it was well established during the Big Freezes of 2010 and 2011. I also remember feeling uneasy 20 years earlier while reading James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, when Gabriel’s soul was swooning slowly as he heard the “snow falling faintly through the universe, and falling faintly, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” Those memorable lines still send shivers down my spine.

They say that the best way to cure a phobia is to confront it. But short of upping sticks and heading to Alaska or the science station at the South Pole, I can’t think of how I can confront it. We don’t get enough of the stuff here to cure me, and even if we did, I don’t know if I could even look at it, not to talk of touching it. Even snowy Christmas scenes on cards and calendars depress me. Sadly, the beauty of a landscape blanketed in snow is entirely lost on me.

So, the last thing in the world I want now is a white Christmas. If there has to be precipitation, then sod the atmosphere, and let it rain lightly.