1978. Nome, Alaska. A creased photograph of me at age five bundled in a parka with a fur-rimmed hood, snowpants, boots, mittens. I am perched like a dark bird on a fault of aquamarine ice that juts, dagger-like, from a vast and blinding whiteness, laughing in awe because all around is the violence of the Bering Sea held fast in time—a clenched fist pulled above and behind the shoulder. It is my first winter in Alaska, the idiom of the south still thick on my tongue: ya’ll, UMbrella, YOUston. My mother, outside the photo, holds the camera. My father, in Texas, begins to build a new life.
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2010. Anchorage, Alaska. My son, barely a year old, sleeps in a taxi on the way to the airport in the center of night as snow falls. The driver, a cousin (always a cousin) of one of my students at the university, speaks cheerfully in a broken tongue about his mother’s cooking, the flame in his belly for hours after each meal. He says, It is good here. I am grateful. But I miss Peru. The light from the streetlamps refracts against frozen air—a procession of ghosts guiding us to a foreign land.
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2012. Takamori, Aso, Japan. My husband offers incense to the Buddha somewhere in the shadows of Ganzōji, the smell and also the sound of sutras drifting to a step where I crouch with my camera. Snow dusts the jagged edges of Nekodake and my children look up into sky, circling and stumbling before ancient stone boddhisattvas and well-tended trees, catching snowflakes that melt at the touch. Soon, the ume will bloom like fire, surrounding the temple. Within a year, we will take a taxi and then a shinkansen and then an airplane to North America.
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2013. Nova Scotia, Canada. My four-year-old son pulls my two-year-old daughter on a bright red sled against the first snow of the year as my husband and I follow the imprint of runner and boot. This will be our children’s first real memory of snow that, for a while, settles and stays. Boy pauses on the edge of an idea, shouts: Let’s make yukidaruma! The four of us gather snow, begin to build a new life together.