When Winter White Goes Green


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As the February snow melts and re-freezes, taking on the look and sound of carved Styrofoam, Long Island elected officials are scrambling to come up with answers for how municipalities so badly handled snow removal.  There is talk of contracts, lack of direction, an overwhelming amount of snow, and the resignation of one highway supervisor — so much talk, in fact, that it’s all starting to sound like a snow job as historical as the blizzard itself.

If only they had paid more attention to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  There always seemed to be snow falling on the other side of the massive window in Mary’s adorable apartment — you know, the one on the top floor of Phyllis’s house.   I often dreamt that I would like to live in Mary’s apartment — if only to have Rhoda as a friend.

When it comes to snow, though, Sue Ann Nivens, the Happy Homemaker as portrayed by Betty White, summed it up perfectly.  Her words still echo in my head each time heavy snow is predicted.

“Snow always inspires such awe in me. Just consider one single snowflake alone, so delicate, so fragile, so ethereal. And yet, let a billion of them come together through the majestic force of nature, they can screw up a whole city.”

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I remember growing up with snow.  It’s what defined winter.  I may not be a fan of the white stuff today, but I certainly enjoy the nostalgia that snow stirs up: snow forts, snow angels, snowballs, snowmen, and even a snow slide.  If it could be made with snow, it was.

There were walks with my sister down narrow canyons of ice and snow to reach the local deli for food supplies.  There was the time when my grandparents from Louisiana visited for Easter, arriving just in time for a rare April blizzard.  Every curtain and shade in the house was opened all the way so they could gaze and marvel at the blinding mounds of white.  And no winter snow would be complete without the chance to shovel with my father, who approached the task with military — and some might say obsessive — determination.  The driveway and front walkway were first completed, followed by the full width of the sidewalk, and finally the paths — to the kennel, to the woodpile, to the garbage cans, and, naturally, to the paths themselves.  At the end of the day, our yard was a web of frozen trenches that could rival a WWI battlefield.

Yes, snow was plentiful in those days.

Those days — and that’s when the light bulb went off.

I worry that as our winters have become milder, our memories of snow are becoming milder, as well.  How else to explain not only the poor handling of this snow emergency, but also the hysteria among citizens when the forecast (or any snow forecast, for that matter) was given?  I know the urgency in the forecasters’ voices has something to do with this, but it can’t take full credit for the new level of hysteria, perfectly spoofed in this YouTube viral video about bread and milk.

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I wonder, as snow fails to fall, is winter survival melting from our genetic code?  Is this snowlessness normal for the younger generation?  Or worse, is this our new normal?

All of this brings to mind a 1954 sci-fi short story by Ray Bradbury, “All Summer In A Day,” which was made into a 1982 short film for PBS.  It tells the story of Margot, a young girl who is newly arrived from Earth to a rain-soaked planet where the sun appears for one hour every seven years.  She is the only one who has ever seen the sun; her classmates have not.

“Margot stood apart from them, from these children who could never remember a time when there wasn’t rain and rain and rain.  They were all nine years old, and if there had been a day, seven years ago, when the sun came out for an hour and showed its face to the stunned world, they could not recall. . .  She knew they thought they remembered a warmness, like a blushing in the face, in the body, in the arms and legs and trembling hands.  But then they always awoke to the tatting drum, the endless shaking down of clear bead necklaces upon the roof, the walk, the gardens, the forests, and their dreams were gone.”

I’m far from being a climatologist, but I think it’s safe to say that weather is changing.  It could be a natural warm cycle that we’re all witnessing or it could be global warming to which we’ve all contributed.  Either way, we could be witnessing our very own sci-fi/sci-fact short story, “All Winter In A Day.”

It takes place on an aging world where only a few of us remember snow — its beauty, its fun, and yes, its headaches; where only a few of us will be able to recall the subtle colors in a drift of freshly fallen snow, or the time when our street wasn’t plowed, or the adventure of walking through a snow canyon with your sister, or the indescribable sky blue after a snowfall.

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It will fall on those who remember snow to spread the word that when it falls, it can be magical — so that youngsters and oldsters will run outside to catch flakes on their tongues, to fall backwards and flap their arms and legs, to hurl perfectly packed balls of white at one another, to race downhill on a sled, to shovel connecting paths with fathers, to laugh — before the green world returns.

By the way, this weekend’s forecast is for a light dusting of snow.  I like the dusting kind; it’s the crushing one that gives me grief — but through both and in-between, I’ll have my snow memories and new ones, as well — to help me get through the day and to share.

37 thoughts on “When Winter White Goes Green

  1. I was born in Buffalo. We got out as soon as we could. Mom hated all that snow (she was a Staten Islander). My parents picked Seattle for a reason; green winters and cool summers. Snow is an event here. We view it with panic (How am I going to get where I need to go?), and joy (School holiday!) I think it boils down to whether one has to deal with the ramifications of snow. To an adult, it’s a problem.To a kid, it’s fun.

    I will admit that New Yorkers are the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet in a blizzard.

  2. I remember winter wonderland days from my years spent living in Illinois. Snow can be truly magical. Snow angels were one of my favorite creations. I like your term “oldsters.” To me, that means young at heart. I think snow flakes bring out the child in all of us. 🙂 I enjoyed your lovely post, Kevin. 🙂

    • Hi Beth. Snow is a funny thing — magical, yes — but the deeper and more treacherous it becomes, it’s a nuisance; a huge inconvenience. The only good news is that it will melt. I especially enjoy seeing the freshest green appear as the snow withdraws. Be well!

    • Hi Lori. That story has always stuck with me, and his words are why I enjoy short stories. It’s a definite gift to be able to create a sense in a short amount of space. By the way, thanks for the compliment — it means a lot to me.

  3. Kevin, how uncanny… I had a similarly themed conversation with a friend, yesterday. Our conclusion: Folks, in general, have become insulated from weather in our daily lives and have forgotten their connection to the natural world. We don’t stock up or plan ahead. And when there is a real or possible disruption of everyday convenience, the panic button gets overworked.

    Good natured and thoughtful post.

    • Hi Cheryl. Great minds and all . . . 🙂 I think you’re on to something. It’s the panic that gets me — and it’s everywhere. The weather and news people always sound alarmed — no matter how much snow is predicted. Even a few inches will send their voices up an octave — and then they have to spell out with detailed graphics what people need to do. As a result, the population seems to run around on the verge of a nervous breakdown — for SNOW! Perhaps it’s the result of our nanny state. Perhaps we are all toddlers needing to have our hands held. Very, very sad.

  4. I often wonder about the lack of snow too and what it means. We were just talking about how last year we didn’t do any skiing due to lack of snow. When I was a kid that sort of thing just didn’t happen. At least I think so – is it just my memory or are we losing more snow each year?

    • Hi Marguerite. Last year, we also lacked snow — and up until this recent blizzard, we were experiencing a snow drought. I have many memories of winters with snow — lots of snow. I don’t know if it’s a naturally occurring cycle — but winter used to mean snow in many parts of the world. Didn’t it?

  5. I can’t share in a conversation about snow, but climate change, yes. Even in California with a year-round Mediterranean climate there are discernible changes. I do wonder about the implications. I’m so glad you referenced Mary, Rhoda and Sue Anne. Don’t forget Phyllis! I watched that show and remember thinking that the snow falling in front of that window was beautiful, and really quite magical. I wasn’t really aware that snow levels were changing so noticeably on the east coast. Sobering!

    • Hi Debra — how could I forget Phyllis? That show was — and is — one of my all-time favorite comedies. And it seems like we could all use some laughter these days. I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me, feels to me, that weather is changing. I’m just not sure if it’s natural or not. We just need to keep adapting.

  6. Snow is definitely an event here, talked up by all the news stations and the subject of speculation amongst friends and strangers. And yes, getting the bread and milk is an important preparation ritual, though the snow rarely is more than an inch or persists longer than a day. But we must have our bread and milk! The fact is we have no snow plows, few have snow tires, and what is a snow shovel? In the rare event (1993 was the last time) we get buried in snow, we are truly buried.

    • Hi Deb. I imagine snow is an oddity when it rarely falls. I remember when relatives from the south came north to visit — they were simply amazed and in awe of snow. I’m not sure if it was more fun to play in the snow or to watch them playing in the snow.

  7. Global Warming ? I don’t think so as the polar ice cap has increased 24% this past year or so. It’s climate period. It runs in cycles and we have to accept it. Every so often we get blasted and 1947 was the first one I remember followed by a few in between. Three more weeks and we will hopefully see the Crocus show there little blooms, even if its through the snow.

    • I’m not sure about the size of the polar ice caps — but I do know crocus. And right now, I think they’re pretty happy to be getting a slow and steady supply of moisture, courtesy of melting snow. 🙂

  8. Another thoughtful and timely post, Kevin. We watch the snowfall with great interest here, as it affects the lake levels, and the great lakes are lower than ever right now.
    By the way, after several days without mail delivery to the island, I received a lovely card and book from you. So sweet! The book is lovely. Thank you, again!

    • Hi Cindy. It’s been interesting to read these observations from all over. I’m not sure if it’s comforting to know that we’re not alone or if it’s alarming that we’re not alone. Glad you received the book — I looked up your location on Google Earth, and might I say, “WOW!” Is it as remote as it looks on a satellite map? Enjoy the read and stay warm.

      • This time of year, it feels pretty remote here. The ferry quits running at Christmastime, and won’t start up again until April. We depend on small planes for our mail and supplies. Since the lake has not frozen across (it rarely does) the air/water temperature equation gives us many cloudy days where there are no flights. This suits me, but it’s not for everyone. This time of year, we’re down to about 400 residents, and cabin fever is rife! Looks like you have more snow on the way?

      • Like I said before, “Wow!” I wonder if I could handle that remoteness — especially at this time of year. We just had a light dusting of snow the other night — and rain is predicted for tomorrow. And so it goes on Long Island, snow one day and rain the next. Bring on spring! 🙂

    • I hope you get some, as well. Winters are becoming that more and more — will we get snow or won’t we? It used to be a given that winter meant snow, but things seem to be changing.

  9. Here in the city of Aberdeen in North East Scotland we get our share of snow but not very severe, in fact some years we hardly get any. When it comes to clearing the roads of the stuff the council always seems unprepared, causing chaos. I suspect when its more constant, the work is more likely to get done.

    • Hi Alistair. I’m sure there are many regions where snow removal is a well-choreographed ballet. My fear is that as snow becomes more rare, folks will forget their dance steps. Be well!

  10. Hi Kevin
    You would think a southern Ontario kid like me, having grown up beside Lake Ontario, would be used to snow but I’m not so very fond of it. I’m sure winter weather was handled much more matter-of-factly when we were kids – no “Bread and Milk” panic at the first snowflake. (That video was hilarious by the way). But I think there are 2 main reasons I react more emotionally now: (a) I’m older (b) the media hypes everything and I always get caught in the maelstrom. I have GOT to calm down! Thanks for a fun post that brought everything back into perspective. Must go out and make a few snow angels….:)

    • Hi Diane. I heard the same information. If blizzards are the new normal, those of us in the snow belt may have to come up with new and improved way to protect our shrubs and trees.

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