Monday, February 8, 2010

Reflections on Snow

Thursday, February 4: The tendency of Mid-Atlantic residents to go on a stockpiling binge any time a weather forecast calls for freezing precip has been a mostly humorous quirk over the years. It is rare to have more than part of a day pass before we’d be able to get out if we had to, and since I try not to let the most basic necessities get that low in the first place, I can usually just chuckle and, with the luxury of a stay-home-mom’s schedule, pick up an extra gallon of milk and get home early. This time, I was not so lucky; with the car’s abysmal timing in springing a transmission gasket, I didn’t get to hit the stores until Doc returned from work Thursday evening. I usually do an end-of week shopping run to feed the family for the weekend anyway, so I had a fairly long list…I was fortunate that the things I was looking for were not, for the most part, popular items for Super Bowl parties. Though I did have to go to four different stores to find everything I wanted, and only at the last one did I find one lonely little package of hot dog buns stuck in between things on a display where it had been discarded by an indecisive earlier shopper. Their change of mind rescued our lunch the next day, as Bookworm and Doc don’t consider a hot dog to be a hot dog without a proper bun.

By Friday morning, schools were canceled and the press was abuzz with polls searching for a catchy name for the storm. I found myself on Twitter for the first time ever, chuckling at my fellow hunkerers’ 140-character takes on the situation. My personal favorite:

Area redefines "calm before the storm" as "panic immediately". #snowmageddon.

President Obama gave his personal endorsement to this title for the storm, using it in his address Saturday to the Democratic National Committee. Apparently the President’s motorcade was also involved in a minor fender bender with an ambulance on the way to the meeting, and had a snow-laden tree branch fall on the same vehicle on the way back. No trace this year of his ribbing area officials for closing schools for a little winter weather, as he evidently did last year in his first winter in office, citing the fact that the schools never close in Chicago. Easy words from someone with his own personal snowplow crew.

Friday’s snow was pretty light, really; there was only about 5 inches on the ground at sunset after coming down all day. It picked up after dark, measuring 9.5” on my driveway at about 11:00 that night. I dug a trench to the street so I could go and get my mail…by 8:30 the next morning, the trench was back to almost 8”, and the untouched part of the driveway had settled to just over 16”. Our neighbors chatted amiably as we met out back several times during the day to try to keep all of our cars from being entombed. When Robert Frost said “Good fences makes good neighbors,” he probably didn’t mean the snow forts we had to erect between our driveways to clear them…but with nowhere else to put all that white stuff, we had a pretty impenetrable wall to a height of about 5’ by Saturday night.

The ice mountains on the street corners, deposited there by the steadfast little Bobcat that trekked up and down to clear an aisle down the center of our street throughout the day (including a stretch from 2:00-5:00 am on Saturday morning, grrr) reached over my head. I guess I’ll keep the complaining to a minimum, though, as I understand that as of this writing two days later, many neighborhood streets have yet to see a single pass of a plow. There are some advantages to having a high-maintenance HOA.

Inside, the two days passed fairly quickly. The house could certainly be cleaner, and there will always be laundry. But we read a few stories, and we broke in Bookworm’s new Easy Bake Oven. I remember being thrilled with mine at about the same age; I don’t remember whether I considered the portion sizes quite as miserly as they now seem to me, but then as a Mom trapped inside with these little sugar mongers, I am grateful for it.

By the time the snow stopped just before 5:00 pm on Saturday, though, I needed both to get outside and to be alone for a few minutes. I decided to go in search of a better depth test than my somewhat sheltered and oft-cleared driveway. I bundled on my boots (relics of my year in Utah…which was not nearly this snowy) and my snow pants (Mom, would you believe I still have the ones we got me for the Santa Fe trip? What year was that? I knew they’d come in handy!), put my camera in an inside pocket to keep the battery warm, and shuffled out.

Thanks to the Bobcat, I didn’t even have to get the tops of my boots wet at first. I just stretched my legs a little, crunching down the still fairly powdery street, enjoying the sight of the really clear sky breaking through the disappearing cloud cover. I waved at the few neighbors who’d ventured out to keep chipping away at their driveways.

Mostly, I was just charmed to be outside. When I’d gone out for the mail the night before, I’d had a flashback to my first winter in St. Petersburg (incidentally, that was ’95-’96, which until tomorrow still holds the #2 all-time snowfall record for the DC area…it was one for the books in Russia, too). I remembered how eerily still it feels when snow is falling, especially if it’s not too windy. I can see why Lewis chose a snowy evening to introduce Lucy to the magic of Narnia. But even more magical for me was the incredibly peaceful lull of the calm after the storm, with a two-foot snowpack muffling the sound of anything daring to move in it, which wasn’t much. We are about half a mile from an interstate and a few hundred yards from a train track; though neither intrudes on my consciousness when I’m inside, the usual noise was conspicuously absent on my walk that evening. It created a rather delicious little illusion of having been transported away from the hectic suburban area we live in.

The illusion grew as I crossed over to the east side of our little subdivision, to an open grassy area that is quite lovely, and to which we have already in our hearts bid an eventual farewell as it is zoned for a retail village. But thanks to the economy, it is still waiting, and under the snowpack it was quite breathtaking, the trees along its fringes positively regal in the changing light as the clouds pulled back from the sunset. The pictures don’t capture the magic I saw. I’ll treasure that walk.

Meanwhile, I finally put the snow pants to the test, and waded out into the open area to stick my bamboo tomato stake (the kids broke my yardstick last year) into the flattest spot I could find. I stuck it in several times over an area of a few square feet in order to try to get a fair average, and came up with about 25”. The NWS spotter for our area reported 27”.

All I can say is, when I took the three older girls out to give their rarely-used snow saucers a little workout the next afternoon, it took some doing to get up the hill through that stuff. I had to take a couple of runs down myself to tamp down the powder enough that the lighter passengers didn’t just get stuck, and then tow Aslan back up each time as it came to nearly her waist in places. The grins at the bottom of the hill were worth it.

I make no promises, though, that I will still be grinning when we have to do it all over again tomorrow. Total seasonal snowfall is not a record I ever had in my sights, at least not since getting out of school. I welcome suggestions for non-electronic pursuits to suggest to bored young ladies waiting for the stuff to stop.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to know you are weathering this ordeal well. There is a lot of snow, but I remember some storms in my youth that were greater. A few non electric things to do: Play board games; Play parlor games; Make up and present a play or program. Practice math facts or hand writing. Learn about other cultures using dolls, paper dolls or souvenirs.

    Make paper airplanes and have a contest to see whose will fly the farthest. Have an inside picnic with home made food that everyone helps prepare.

    Draw a picture of the snow or just anything. Write and illustrate a story about the sledding trip. Talk to each other.

    Work on some crafts. String some elbow macaroni on some yarn and make a bracelet or necklace out of it.

    As for us, our brains are developed enough that we can watch more TV when we aren't talking or reading or shoveling. I enjoyed your pictures. I wish we could have a hot chocolate party together. We'll wait for the thaw.