Snow Chronicles

I hate snow.  That seems harsh, hating snow of all things.  It’s pure, it floats, it falls from the heavens, each flake is unique, you can play in it: there are so many reasons to love snow.  But, I hate it.

When I was little, my mother taught me to never “hate” anything because hate was a strong word reserved for really, really bad things like satan and murder.  When the “H” word slipped out, my mother would ask, “Do you really hate that?”  I eventually learned to amend my statements and say I “disliked” the distasteful thing of the moment.

I’ve given it lots of thought, Mom, YEARS of thought, and I really think I hate snow.  I can’t come up with a compelling reason to like snow, or at the very least, to not hate snow.  I’ve tried, I really have, but I’ve failed.  I’ve come up with lots of reasons to dislike snow, but my feeling go far beyond dislike.  I’ll tell you why.

I don’t remember complaining about snow when I was a child.  Snow blankets Ohio every winter.  There was nothing I could do about that, so I guess I tolerated snow for the first 18 years of my life.  There were even moments when I enjoyed snow – I made snowmen, snow forts and snow angels for hours ignorant of the biting cold.  The golf course nearby provided our local hills and we would trudge through the snow for 10 minutes hefting our sleds behind us so we could slide down the greens.  If you had the right gear — the  snow suit, snow boots, thick gloves, woolen hats, long underwear and hot chocolate waiting inside — snow wasn’t so bad.  Occasionally we had “snow days” when school was canceled and snow became every child’s hero and playground.  Clearly there was a time when snow was not my enemy.  Times have changed.

When I was 18, I moved to California for college and discovered the phenomenon of warm winters.  In Santa Barbara, where I lived, you never need a down-filled winter jacket or lined boots.  A fleece or sweater will get you through the coldest days.  You can eat outside 12 months a year, which I discovered that I loved doing and annoyed my friends by insisting we eat most of our meals on the dining hall’s patio.  Winter in southern California consists of a rainy season and temperatures from the 50s to the 70s.  One year we had a “freak” January with multiple days in the 90s.  Weather in California was so idyllic that I forgot about snow for most of the year.

When I went home for my first college Christmas, I was shocked at just how cold winter could be.  Those first steps out of the airport and into the parking garage were like being struck by lightning, a cataclysmic shock to my system.  My breath was snatched away by the freezing air.  Then, needing oxygen, I fought expand my lungs and that hurt.  I had forgotten the sting of taking cold air into your lungs.  Everything in me wanted to shut down.  My brain screamed not to get into the cold car with its frozen leather seats and to run back in to the warm airport, jump back on the plane and return to sunny California.  But being home for the holidays meant I had to “brave the cold” as people say.  That winter was the first time I realized that I might need to actually be brave to survive winter.

We got some flurries that year but not much accumulated.  By then I was probably too dignified to play in snow even if we got a foot, so what good would snow do me?  The flakes that floated to earth on Christmas Eve were sentimental at best.  For the first time, snow seemed a tease, as though it beckoned me outdoors where I might enjoy freezing my fingers or toes (or something larger) off.  No thank you.

After college I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia.  Americans often hear “Vancouver” and assume that because it is north in Canada that it must be very cold and snowy there.  Much of Canada is, but Vancouver, being just 30 miles from the US border and on the coast, is a pretty temperate city.  Thought not warm like southern California, Vancouver winters were mostly rain with some slush.  It was cold, but never bitter cold.

I think Vancouver was a major turning point for me hating snow.  One winter we got a “big” storm which delivered perhaps six inches of snow and freezing rain.  Vancouver sprawls out over seven hills and what flat spaces there are, are of human construction.  Six inches of snow brought the city to a halt.  There weren’t enough plows to efficiently or quickly clear the snow.  The bus system was in chaos, many of the drivers unable to keep the buses from sliding down the giant hills or off their electrical lines.  Typically, I rode the bus to school, but first I had to walk a quarter-mile to the bus stop.  When it snowed, residential streets were not plowed as a rule.  Each home owner was responsible to clear their own sidewalk, but few did.  One morning on my commute, post snowstorm, I fell down three times before I reached the bus stop.  When I finally got to school, half my pant legs, my shoes and socks were soaked through.  Wet socks stay wet for hours and mean cold feet.  Cold feet make for a distracted and disgruntled student.  In Vancouver, snow taught me how to growl.  It rarely stayed below freezing long, so the snow quickly became a black slushy mess.  Being a regular pedestrian on bustling urban streets meant I often had slush sprayed on my pants from passing motorists.  Lovely.

I briefly lived in Michigan in 2006.  In Michigan snow is everywhere all the time, but they know how to deal with snow, so it is rarely inconvenient.  One morning it was particularly icy on my way to work and I slid through a red light.  Those cautious and experienced Michigan drivers waited till I cleared the intersection and continued on their way.   Michigan had little impact on my malicious feelings toward snow.  Surprisingly, Pennsylvania is the place that sealed my hatred of snow.

I’ve lived in central Pennsylvania for almost four years.  We don’t get tons of snow, but when it comes it paralyzes us.  Officially, I live in a village.  When you drive along the local highway there is a little white sign that says “Village of Grantham” just before our one exit.  This village is tiny enough that when you go to the polls you usually know the person voting next to you.  (When I voted in the recent presidential election, I was in a booth next to the President of the college I work for.)  In this village we maybe have two plows but we have lots of windy, hilly, country roads and single lane bridges.  Two weeks ago we had a winter squall that doused us with snow and ice.  I literally could not get out of the village because the hills that border us on all sides had become sheets of ice.  Cars were sliding down the hills doing 360s.  There was a five car pileup at the bottom of our biggest hill.  I was stuck in Grantham.

By now you’ve heard of the east coast blizzard of 2009.  It was just a few days ago.  My village got more snow than I have ever seen here, about a foot.  I live on a small college campus in this village.  The college was closed by the time the snow fell on Saturday.  I was stuck on campus all of Saturday and most of Sunday before the grounds crew plowed me out.  It was the second week in a row that I missed church.  I got a severe case of cabin fever.  I watched three TV movies and then cleaned out my closets.

Every time I look out the window at the swirling, heaping snow, I get angry or frustrated.  Snow in PA comes with a wind so cold it burns the skin.  When you live on a small college campus in a village, you walk everywhere; it’s not pleasant.  Pennsylvanians freak out when they hear snow is coming.  They run to the store and stock up on food and water similar to America’s infamous behavior to the threat of Y2K.  (Of course there are some sensible Pennsylvanians, but most of those I have met, grew up in another state.) Few people here know how to drive in snow.  Some of my fellow Ohioans and I discuss how it is not the snowy roads we fear, it is the Pennsylvania drivers.

I hate snow.  That’s the cold, hard truth.  It might look pretty at first but it quickly becomes a nasty, dangerous mess.  It brings out the ridiculous in people.  It’s fun for kids but annoying for adults.  Snow isolates, especially when you are single and live alone.  I don’t like feeling disconnected from the world beyond my little village.  I want to get out of here, out of my apartment, out of my village, out of Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately, I’m snowed in.  Maybe I should invest in a plow for the front of my Civic?

It’s hopeless.  I hate snow.

One thought on “Snow Chronicles

  1. Well, there goes my plan to get you to move to Edmonton–we have a ridiculous amount of snow. It did come late this year. But two years ago it came in October and didn’t melt until April. No joke.
    But, I have grown to like it. Because when it’s -20, it might as well be beautiful out, rather than just brown and ugly AND cold.
    I remember once when it snowed in Vancouver and I went cross-country skiing on the beach (Spanish Banks). It was a very cool experience to ski right by the water.

    Happy Christmas.


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