|January 27, 2015|
It's not the Blizzard of the Century here in southwestern Massachusetts but snow is falling in a curtain as I type, casting a gauzy veil between my cottage and the house next door. The trees look as though they've been penciled in against the horizon. Only the wee birds at the feeder just outside the window - the gray and white juncoes, the finches with their purple breasts or cranberry head caps or mustard yellow feathers, the black and white chickadees, the brilliant ruby red cardinal, the needle-beaked nuthatch - are clearly defined. A much stronger band of the storm batters the east coast. Already it's dumped snow in some towns that is measured in feet rather than mere inches and the entire island of Nantucket went off grid about 8 a.m.
Because of predicted snowfall amounts and wind velocity, the entire state of Massachusetts was put under a state of emergency while the storm was still hours away. As it turned out, the storm made a "wobble," and the western third of the state was spared. But not before store shelves were emptied, schools and businesses were closed, and a statewide travel ban was imposed.
Snowstorms here in New England are a common occurrence. When I was growing up, the weatherman on the one TV station we got would warn us of impending snow and remind us to bundle up. Now terms like massive, historic, and unparalleled are bandied about. There are few maybes in the forecast and frightening scenarios accompany many weather reports. What used to be considered common sense precautions are reiterated a thousand times over. I can't recall a snowstorm where my parents panicked and fled to the supermarket to stock up. We often lost power in bad storms, winter and summer, so our flashlights always had charged batteries, we had a good supply of candles and matches, we were never short of bread or milk or toilet paper. If the heat went off we had a fireplace with a ready supply of wood, and there were plenty of extra blankets on the beds. We wore sweaters and two pairs of socks if we were cold. We had a gas stove that we had to light with a match so we were always able to make a hot meal. If we knew a storm was coming, my mother would fill the canning pot with water for washing and several glass milk bottles for drinking.
For a number of years in the 70s and 80s, I homesteaded in Northern Vermont with my now ex-husband and our four young children. For the first couple of years we had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Winters in northern VT are predictably cold and snowy. With no radio or TV, we relied on our windows, our bones (and sometimes our neighbors), to let us know what the weather was doing. Though there were a number of snowstorms that left over two feet of snow at once and the temperature could plunge to -40, we weren't paralyzed as people seem to be now. School was seldom called off. If the bus driver couldn't navigate the roads, he called the superintendent who called the firehouse and 3 blasts of the siren let us know school was cancelled for the day. Now schools are closed before a single flake falls.
I never thought I'd feel old fashioned, but I do. Perhaps it's common at this age to look back at what one's life was like 50, 30, even 10 years ago and make comparisons. And the weather will always remain relatively unpredictable. What I object to is the rhetoric. That, and the assumption that people don't know how to take care of themselves. All the drama of the weathercasters' language makes me squirm. Something isn't historic until it takes place. Why don't they just warn us that heavy snow is possible, remind us to look out the window before we head out the door, tell us to take common sense precautions and always be ready for an emergency?