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Posts Tagged ‘snow’

harvard yard trees snow

It snowed eight inches in Cambridge on Friday, as predicted. I’d kept an eye on the forecast, pulled out my snow boots, bundled up in all the right gear. But I was not ready.

After last winter’s record-breaking 108 inches of snow (that’s nine feet, people), most New England residents are greeting the weather forecast with a little trepidation these days. Even though we’ve had some shockingly mild spells, and this snow was mostly falling on bare ground, I still expected the usual slew of snow-related problems: icy sidewalks, bitter winds, slushy streets, possible train delays.

I didn’t want to walk out there and face it. But I had to.

harvard hall snow trees winter

These past few months have been a tough stretch for me, and for several people I love. We’re all dealing with the present reality or the aftermath of hard things: surgery, illness, uncertainty in our personal and professional lives. We wake up and face them because we have to, and we get through the day somehow, but at the end, it is still winter.

My sister is still on crutches after her knee surgery; my friends’ grown daughter still has cancer. I am still job hunting. We are all hanging in, bearing things we’d rather not have to bear, hoping for a glimpse of good news.

And yet.

cambridge fence sidewalk snow

On Friday, I arrived at the office to find I wasn’t alone, as I had feared I might be; about half of my colleagues had made it in. We spent a quiet, convivial, productive morning, watching the snow swirl down outside Sarah’s office window.

It felt like being inside a snow globe, and at lunch I walked out to the scene above. I made my way down the street to Darwin’s, for a sandwich and chitchat with the staff, and returned to work feeling nourished in several ways.

Later that afternoon, I threw on my coat, picked up a library book that needed returning, and headed over to the Yard. It is difficult to overstate my love for this particular patch of ground: I love it in all seasons, and it’s stunning in the snow.

johnson gate harvard snow

I walked down snowy sidewalks through Old Yard, past Widener Library and over to Lamont, where I returned my book and picked up another one. I stopped every few yards to marvel, sliding off my glove and snapping photos of buildings and trees limned with fluffy snow.

houghton library harvard memorial church snow

I am not a lover of cold and snow by nature. Given the choice, I’d prefer a mild spring evening or a crisp autumn day when the trees blaze red instead of standing out in black and white. But this winter wonderland has its own charms. And I was so grateful, on Friday, to be out in it, enjoying it. (I was equally glad to go back inside, where it was warm and dry.)

Worried about a messy evening commute, I left work a little early, only to find that the snow had stopped when I reached my neighborhood. The sky was tinted a delicate sunset pink, and the rosy light on the branches of the trees next to the subway station took my breath away.

sunset light snow branches winter

I would rather not have to bear the frustrations of winter (and I’m watching the forecast carefully, since more cold and snow are on their way). And I am so ready for the job hunt to be over. But both of them also possess some lovely silver – or, occasionally, rose-tinted – linings.

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Blizzard essentials.

darwins blizzard sign

We’re still digging out from the Blizzard of 2015 over here – the storm dropped nearly two feet of snow on our part of Massachusetts, with drifts twice as high as that. (The winds howled all day yesterday, and the temps won’t rise high enough to melt the snow for a good while.)

It started snowing in Cambridge on Monday morning (when I snapped the shot above at my favorite cafe). My office closed down an hour early, so everyone could get home ahead of the storm. Most of us had done our pre-blizzard grocery shopping already, but several folks had other last-minute errands to run.

One of my colleagues announced her plan to swing by the craft store for needles and yarn, so she could teach herself to knit during our snow day on Tuesday. Another colleague hoped to stop at her neighborhood wine shop on the way home; still another had run out earlier to pick up some (neon yellow) thermal tights.

And me? I went straight to the flower shop for pink tulips. Then I hopped on the train and headed downtown for some tea from David’s (Cream of Earl Grey) and a P.G. Wodehouse novel from Commonwealth Books.

tulips tea jeeves

I’d stocked up on soup supplies (and milk, and bottled water) over the weekend, so when I got home, I was all set.

We didn’t venture out at all on Tuesday, except for a brief (frigid) shoveling attempt. But I heard from a friend who went for a hike through the snowy city and found an open CVS. What did he buy?

Iced coffee, Cheez-Its and Oreos. Only the essentials.

What are (or would be) your blizzard essentials?

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This is, as I’ve said before, my fourth winter in Boston. And while I’ve learned a few tricks for bundling up against the cold and navigating the snow-lined, slushy streets, I am continually astounded by the sheer volume of what I didn’t know about these winters before living through them.

Hence, a list.

snow harvard cambridge ma winter

1. Winter has a particular scent – a crisp, cold, thin one. On the first few truly frigid mornings, you can smell it in the air.
2. The days grow abruptly shorter after Daylight Savings Time ends, and this is almost more difficult than the cold.
3. Road salt is hell on boots, shoes, and dogs’ feet. (Hence the silly-looking dog booties I see around town sometimes.)
4. Clorox cleaning wipes are pretty good for cleaning road salt off said boots.
5. Sometimes the snow is thick enough that people actually have to shovel their porch roofs, lest they collapse under the weight of it.
6. Black ice is a real thing, and it is slippery, treacherous and nearly invisible.
7. The temperatures can drop low enough that it’s too cold to snow – and when the mercury rises and the snow starts falling, it actually feels warmer.
8. Down is appreciably warmer than wool.
9. Related: you need at least one down coat and one wool coat, for different types of cold days.
10. Blasting heaters indoors and frigid air outdoors make layers a necessity, and dry skin, flyaway hair, and dripping noses an inevitability. (I grew up in a warm, dry climate, where winter is a totally different and much gentler animal.)
11. Related: damp cold can be harder to take than crisp, dry cold. The former gets into your bones.
12. Piles of gray slush are infinitely harder and more depressing to walk through than fresh snow.
13. Related: puddles of melting snow/sludge can be deceptively deep.
14. Seeing light in the sky at 5:00 p.m. feels like a real victory.
15. Related: December, with its twinkly good cheer, is only the beginning of winter. The longest, hardest slog comes afterward.
16. It is possible to hate the cold and have cabin fever at the same time.
17. Your attitude toward snow changes dramatically after you watch it bury your car and street several times.
18. Related: sometimes it takes days for the snowplow to reach your street.
19. Also related: there are some streets and sidewalks that never do get plowed.
20. Despite the above, city workers and the maintenance folks at my workplace are my new heroes.
21. As long as the power’s on, you usually have to go to work no matter how bad it gets.
22. I wouldn’t have believed it, but it is possible to get tired of soup.
23. Spring clothes are infinitely tempting and also crazy-making, because you know you won’t be able to wear them till at least (at least!) April or May.
24. Taking a vacation to a warm place really does help.
25. As do Vitamin D pills and light boxes. But they are not cure-alls.
26. The sight of bare, damp earth can feel positively springy, even if it is mid-February.
27. Ditto crocuses, even if they’re peeking through snow.
28. The subway often runs more smoothly on a snow day than on a normal one.
29. If the winter is long enough and cold enough, you may start to go a little nuts and make lists like this one.

snow hood jacket

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After the storm

The mounds of snow are slowly shrinking, their top layers melting away under the gentle warmth of the afternoon sun. The sidewalks are dark with water, the gutters swollen with it. Everything freezes again overnight, leaving thin, treacherous layers of black ice over sidewalks and curbs and parking lots in the morning.

snow public garden boston trees february winter nemo

Along the roads, the snow is gritty, brown from the traffic rolling by and throwing up dirt and exhaust onto the pure white drifts. The city makes the snow ugly, and the dirt keeps it from melting. In the parks, the drifts are still mostly white and clean, though crisscrossed with deep footprints. Fat squirrels scurry lightly over the top of the snow. In the Public Garden, the lake is thick white ice, with a few telltale brown patches where it grows thin. Someone has dug the ducklings out, still cheerily sporting their red Christmas ribbons.

ducklings snow boston public garden

Before moving to Boston, I had never engaged with snow as a thing, a weight, a physical presence. Snow in West Texas is an ephemeral novelty; in Oxford, it was a temporary delight. In New England, the delight is still temporary, but the reality has staying power. After a storm like Nemo, the aftermath lingers for days and weeks. Slush gathers on street corners, churned up by muddy boots; in sheltered corners, patches of dirt-speckled snow sometimes lie until spring.

Every morning, I check the weather forecast and the public transportation website. I pull on tights and knee socks, a puffy down jacket, thick-soled boots. I wrap a scarf around my neck, pull on gloves and a hat, and head out to do battle with the elements. Sometimes I walk for ten yards along a sidewalk before hitting solid snow. More often I move my feet slowly, carefully, over the patches of ice until I find dry ground again.

snow boston common winter nemo

This is what winter in Boston requires: preparation, the right gear, sharp eyes and careful navigation. For me, it also requires extra light, color therapy, plenty of tea and soup, bouquets of fresh flowers on the dining room table. And a good dose of grit-your-teeth perseverance.

I’m trying. I really am. But I’m counting the days till spring.

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Nemo, aka The Blizzard of 2013, is over. (Why anyone decided to name such a monstrous storm after a little lost clownfish is beyond me.) We ended up with more than two feet of snow, more than I’ve ever seen at one time. On Saturday afternoon, our street (and cars) looked like this:

nemo snow storm feb 2013

My workplace was closed on Friday, and J got home before the snow and wind kicked into high gear. We had a cozy afternoon with books, tea, Sleepless in Seattle, and popcorn. The evening was cozy too, with tomato soup and grilled cheese, card games and more tea. And then, as we were brushing our teeth, the power went out.

I don’t like to think of myself as a sissy. But the next 23 hours were rough.

We stayed in bed late Saturday morning, then spent a couple of hours freeing our cars from the snowbanks:

snow shovel car nemo storm feb 2013

We did have hot water (thank heaven), so we treated ourselves to hot showers, then spent the afternoon huddled under blankets, sipping tea and piling on more layers as the apartment grew colder. I spent my afternoon with the Ingalls family (for perspective and a little courage), reading about the winter when they endured seven months of blizzards. I marveled, as always, at their grit and resourcefulness, and these words gave me pause:

Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.

—The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pa’s words made me sharply aware of how much we depend on our modern conveniences. Refrigerators, heaters, cell phones, microwaves, the Internet – all completely useless without electricity. I did light our gas stove several times to make tea and heat up soup, but otherwise we simply had to keep wrapping up in coats and blankets and sweaters. The roads were clogged with snow (we saw several cars struggle to make it down the street, spinning their wheels uselessly), and our entire town had lost electricity. We couldn’t depend on any of the usual things.

But we could, and did, clear the snow away from our cars with muscle and hard work. We accepted sandwiches and cups of hot chocolate from our elderly neighbors, who live downstairs. We drank cup after cup of steaming tea, thankful for gas stoves and matches. And as the dark came down, we settled in for an evening of board games by candlelight.

Nemo 011

(After this photo was taken, I put on a hat and coat. It was 47 degrees in our apartment.)

Nemo 012

About nine, the heater kicked on – which meant the power was back. We whooped and danced for joy, and laughed like children. I have never been so thankful for warmth. (And what a luxury it was to wake up Sunday morning, warm all over.)

I’m back to depending on some of the usual conveniences – email, my kitchen appliances, public transportation, the Internet. And I am deeply grateful to be warm again. But I’ll remember Nemo not only for the record-breaking snow, but for the reminder that I can count on my husband’s sense of humor, my neighbors’ kindness, and my own grit and courage. (And besides, the whole weekend – now that it’s over – makes a good story.)

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Poem for winter

boston garden winter snow dusk lights

Walking Home from Oak-Head
by Mary Oliver

There is something
about the snow-laden sky
in winter
in the late afternoon

that brings to the heart elation
and the lovely meaninglessness
of time.
Whenever I get home — whenever —

somebody loves me there.
Meanwhile
I stand in the same dark peace
as any pine tree,

or wander on slowly
like the still unhurried wind,
waiting,
as for a gift,

for the snow to begin
which it does
at first casually,
then, irrepressibly.

Wherever else I live —
in music, in words,
in the fires of the heart,
I abide just as deeply

in this nameless, indivisible place,
this world,
which is falling apart now,
which is white and wild,

which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith,
our deepest prayers.
Don’t worry, sooner or later I’ll be home.
Red-cheeked from the roused wind,

I’ll stand in the doorway
stamping my boots and slapping my hands,
my shoulders
covered with stars.

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Boston winter scenes

Taken on after-work strolls around the Common and the Public Garden, and at L’Aroma Cafe on Newbury Street.

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