We are all children for the first snow of the year.

And it's not simply that we wish to throw snowballs, though we do; even adults test the packability of fresh flakes with scientific gravity. Instead, we are all children because the first snow is like the first snow ever, in the world. It changes the rules of adult power, forcing schools to shut and workers to stay home, making this officious city unofficial and inefficient.

It's the snow that falls with impunity, all businesslike and impersonal, straight to the ground yesterday with no wind to muss it up. And people walk like they're on the moon, or like toddlers just getting to know their feet: knees high, with exaggerated steps.

At Arena Stage, actors and staff tumble out of the building to make a snowman. On Thomas Circle, two building engineers become shovelers for the day, and their reward for freezing is the first hot chocolate of the season. A young woman walks out of a nearby Marriott in what appears to be pajamas. Why not? It's the first snow. Rules don't matter.

Except when they do.

"I'm at a conference and I've got to go back," says Terron Shoemaker, 32, in town from Fort Lauderdale and finishing her lunch inside the Cosi cafe at 15th and K. "But I want to go outside and play."

The snow whitens blacktop and muffles sounds, making city not-city. The quiet gives things a sense of unreality, the way wearing a blindfold can make you forget everyone else can still see you. The snow, Shoemaker says, "kind of humanizes everything. You don't have any sharp edges."

In contrast to later snows, the season's first doesn't make daily life a chore. It's too special. There's no buildup of gray slush and ice yet. The first snow has a purity, and there is always somebody (infants, immigrants) who's never seen it before.

Snow also makes room for love (and lovers are children, as the song says). On McPherson Square, there's a glimmer of buoyancy -- a man lifts a woman, not to take her across the snow, but because he is tall and she is short and because he can. Then he takes her hand and they're smiling and rushing along, not so much to get someplace as to be together, it seems, and she is just a little behind, looking up into his face the way a girl looks at her father.

Before a chance meeting on a flight home to Buffalo over Thanksgiving, the two hadn't seen each other in, oh, 10 years, says the woman, whose name is Jennifer Dee, 33. They were thrilled to meet again -- both live in Washington, she as a graduate student and he working in finance. And so, when it snowed today and Dee's classes were canceled, she called Mike Malarkey, 32, and here they are going to get lunch, walking along near-empty streets, covered by what Malarkey -- prideful New Yorker -- terms a mere "dusting."

"This is nothing and everything is closed down, so isn't that perfect?" he says.

You look at the way they look at each other and you wonder, did they ever date, and the answer is no, but --

"We should've," he says.

"We should have," she says.

He touches her collar, and they keep on down the street.

Back in the park, a man presides over a white demesne. He is in a red face mask and a heavy coat, wrapped in a quilt and a blanket, surrounded by more blankets and belongings, shielded by a huge umbrella, and he looks like he could weather anything. He looks, indeed, like he has.

Are you warm?

"Well, so far." He says he's Tony Ankrah from Ontario, age 46, and when talking of snow speaks "medical aspects" and "research studies" and "business connections" and asks for your favorite month (April) and relates that to "the figure 4." He says snow is "gorgeous" and "exciting," provided you know how to handle it, and good for "creating a romantic scenario" and asks, "When was the last time I had a lovely, gorgeous kiss?"

Snow days: cold noses and warm lips. This is how Tony Walker puts it: Snow "only works when you have a companion." He is single and sounds a little sad. "You got a companion, you can go play in the snow."

Walker is selling flowers at the McPherson Square Metro station, beside pigeons with their heads tucked into their shoulders and homeless people with their legs tucked under blankets. His flowers are tulips and carnations and astromeria from Ecuador and the warm parts of Mexico and Colombia, places where snow is harder to come by, places where Walker would not like to live because once, in Englewood, Calif., he saw lawns covered in white netting to imitate snow and he couldn't believe it; in Washington, he says, "you get the real fullness of the four seasons."

Still, business is slow on a day like this, when the fullness of winter means fewer people come to work. Walker points to carnations and says to a customer, "They last for two weeks." Two weeks' worth of red summer in a frigid landscape.

Up by Thomas Circle, three college students staying at a hotel take a break from their internship project to aim snowballs at one of their own windows. What is it about the first snow? "I guess it's just new again," one of them says.

And across the circle, Bernie Bromley, 46, and Cameron Reid, 24, are shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, as they have been since 5:45 a.m., when it was dark, and as they will so long as there is snow falling and people coming into work in the building Bromley and Reid help run.

This morning, at approximately 8 a.m., a lawyer who works in the building threw a snowball at Bromley. Imagine that! A lawyer at some lofty firm, regressing into boyish antics.

And then the man happily taunted Bromley: "Call a lawyer."

Arena Stage's Molly Smith and Stephen Richard put the finishing touches on their snow sailor, a cool advertisement for the company's production of "South Pacific."Tony Ankrah, surveying his quiet, white kingdom at McPherson Square, calls the snow "gorgeous . . . exciting."Flower vendor Tony Walker, who is single, maintains that fresh snow "only works when you have a companion."