Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 393
“The Wind and the Snow of Winter” is a highly symbolic story. The title introduces the season of death, and the story begins “near sunset.” Myriad images convey the sense of impending death, of the transience of life, of the end of Mike’s era.
Mike is descending into a dying town, a town where his friends are already buried, where the social institutions that enriched his life have faded, where the prospector and his mule have been replaced by highways and trucks. Mike walks into the setting sun, it is the time of winter solstice, and the snow that covers all for the season of death is beginning to fall.
That Mike has little future left is poignantly conveyed by his living in the past. Though he does not remember that Mrs. Wright is dead, it is obvious that he has been hardened by loss and death. That he has learned from the pain of broken attachments is apparent in his increasing detachment from his burros.
Mike’s introspection is prompted by what he calls “high-blue” weather. In spring high-blue, he used to think about women, to anticipate the future. Now he is more responsive to fall high-blue; he thinks of the past, of old friends—and he watches the weather carefully because he has begun to fear getting caught in a storm.
As Mike approaches the last pass, it is “getting darker rapidly.” Mike looks at the sunset and remembers God. He anticipates the view from the summit of his “lighted city,” the Gold Rock of his memories as well as the “lighted city” that he anticipates beyond death.
Thus the imminence of Mike Braneen’s death is clearly established by Clark’s symbolism. The reader is not especially surprised to look down with Mike on the dim, scattered lights of Gold Rock. One is prepared for the death of Mike’s friends, for the closing of the Lucky Boy, for the approaching death of Mike himself, and one sees one’s own shadows lengthen, one’s own life obscured.
Mike is at peace with himself, with nature, and with his society, but he is also mortal. Clark’s story not only exploits the universal symbols of human mortality and transience but also explores the human need to hold off the blast of winter—and to accept winter when it comes.