Snow keeps me awake. Big storms, little dustings…it’s all the same. I can’t sleep. It’s like waiting for Santa. I’m crazy for snow.
The week I was born, the last week of January, there was 120″ of snow on the ground in northeastern Vermont. My Mother used to tell me that Vermont is “ten months of snow and eight weeks of damn poor sleddin’.” I’ve heard variations over the years, but I heard it first from her. No Vermonter would give you an argument.
Snow, in a world obsessed with dominating the environment, has a tough job. It’s expected to lie virginal and unsullied for a magical White Christmas. Then it should get lost. Recede. Politely melt at the turn of the year, never impeding modern commerce. Cue the sunshine. Snow as a backdrop in a theme park Christmas conjured up by Vermont Life or Yankee Magazine. The snow I knew as a child would never have put up with the tomfoolery of a photo op. It was willful, spiteful. Dominate and cold. One misstep and you could forfeit a foot, fingers, or your life. Yesterday was an inkling of what snow can do. We are what we are: hairless mammals when it starts to come down.
I don’t respect a whole lot anymore but snow has earned my admiration.
If you’ll bear with me…
When I was ten years old, the old coal furnace at the local two room school house kicked out on a frosty morning with snow pending. I believe the old janitor was less than enthusiastic about sitting in the basement breathing in the bituminous while we studied our ABCs. Our school led the county in the number of days the furnace, or the janitor, broke down.
In those days in our small town, Barton, with its wooden sidewalks and a choice of canned green peas or canned green peas with carrots at the local IGA, snow was always either “pending” or “falling”. It was pretty relentless. By January, when I celebrated my birthday, we had, on average, about 10′ down, give or take, and more to go. And about that time we’d hit a “cold snap”, which was the old-timers code for three weeks of -40 below. I’ll tell you a secret: when you go out in that kind of cold you keep your nose and mouth covered and your eyes moving. More than snot freezes.
When I say that we “had, on average, about 10′ down, give or take” that might be hard to comprehend. If I asked when the last time was that you shoveled the roof, or stood on the roof and jumped into the snow drifts, or couldn’t get out the door to get to the roof because the snow was blasted to the top of the lintel and the knob wouldn’t turn, you might get an inkling of what it was like. Cars didn’t start. Plows ran because the diesel fuel got cut with kerosene to keep it from jelling and the trucks idled 24-7. By 10 a.m. there was cheek-to-cheek buffalo plaid, the smell of hot wool and sweat, and knee-high felt pack workboots snugged up at the counter of the Park Restaurant swigging down hot coffee and chowing on homemade pie. Back to the plows. If you owned cows you got plowed first. If you didn’t, they’d get to you sometime.
I learned a couple of things when I was ten. Never shop for just one meal at a time. If it snows it will probably come down hard and you’re going to get very hungry shoveling. And never depend on electricity to keep you warm. As sure as you redo your house with the latest electric gadget, the power will go out and you’ll freeze your nuggets.
At ten, I also learned about storing 50 lbs of potatoes and water glassing eggs against a vicious winter, using the back porch as a freezer and jump starting a car.
It was also the year I saw the Northern Lights. They scared the bejezus out of me. I was on my way home from the town skating rink with a couple of friends and I just happened to be making a survey of the starry bits in the firmament when a flash of brilliant green rippled across the sky. I’m not sure if anyone remembers the movie The Ten Commandments but I can tell you that when you see green in the sky, something really bad is going to happen. I don’t think that admitting to screaming panic would be shameful. Why God would want to smite Barton, Vermont, was beyond me. But I wasn’t taking any chances.
It’s been a few decades on but I still get pretty silly for snow. This afternoon I snowshoed down the middle of my street, made snow angels in the backyard, and sat in the snowbank with my dog. I suspect the neighbors will be keeping an eye on me from now on.
Maybe it was growing up in a place where the snow doesn’t completely disappear until the end of June. Or later. When my son was a year old, on July 12, we celebrated his birthday wearing wool sweaters and turtlenecks while watching the sky fill with snowflakes. A full on wood stove and a hearty hot meal made the party for our guests. That was also the year I harvested green pellets from ninety tomato plants.
Would you be surprised if I told you that same year old son, now turned 25, lives for snow and spends his winters outside?
I guess the icicle doesn’t fall far from the eaves.
Before I say ‘goodnight’, let me leave you with a thought: there are folks who complain about snow, hate it, decry it and live to see Frosty fry under a hot sun. But those same naysayers who make a feast out of hating snow seem to be the same folks who can’t wait to share their stories about how snow deliberately had it in for them. In winter the snow story replaces summer’s fish story. I believe I’ve never seen either related without a twinkle. It starts like this:
“Goddamn snow. Let me tell you what happened…”