Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Blizzard of Sixteen

I try not to talk about the weather very much, but you may have heard that the central swath of the eastern United States has just experienced a major snowstorm: the Blizzard of Sixteen.  In various places such as in the stalled cars along the turnpikes in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, the problems were serious.  Here in Princeton we got only twenty-three inches, and the gale-force winds were only “occasional”.  Still it was a lot of storm.

I want to call it a “perfect storm”.  But that phrase has come to mean a collocation of various kinds of badness, whereas I mean something like the opposite.  For us, in our particular situation, it was about as good as a crippling storm could be.  It conveniently fell on a weekend when neither of us had travel obligations.  We both had contemplative tasks that invited a hunkering-down attitude.  The electrical power, which has several times in the past succumbed to lesser assault, remained unbroken.  We had no commissary shortages, and we were perhaps above all hearth-ready.

The Big Weather of recent years featured back-to-back hurricanes (one of them the infamous Sandy of 2012, preceded a couple of years earlier by a production more local, though hardly less violent) that flattened many trees on the common land south of our house.  The house itself narrowly escaped being mauled by a large collapsing linden.  There were a couple of upsides.  The first was that the far too large resident deer population, having lost a significant part of its forest cover, was for a time somewhat reduced—a development welcome to gardeners.  The second was that there was suddenly available to anyone with a chainsaw and a modicum of stamina an abundance of excellent firewood—oak, maple, locust.  Over a couple of summers I worked my way through several cubic yards of this windfall, creating two very large and carefully constructed piles of split firewood.  This has been seasoning under tarps and really would have been ready last winter, had there been any such event.  Just as I was concluding that this year some of it is needing to be burned before it decays, my excellent next-door neighbor virtually forced upon me half a truckload of split hardwood he had bought from a commercial dealer but decided would be more than he could use.

When last week the weather mavens turned hysterical concerning an impending blizzard, I chalked it up mainly to hype but figured that enough of a winter event might be on its way at least to allow us to have a fire or two.  So I hauled up a cord or so of my neighbor’s largesse, along with a goodly pile of kindling made from hardwood flooring scavenged from a dumpster a while back, and arranged all this conveniently along the backside of the house.  When I say “conveniently,” I mean that you didn’t even have to exit the house to get to it—just open a sliding window and reach out.  It was all under an overhang, but for safety’s sake, in an untypical moment of forethought, I covered it with a ratty gray tarpaulin.

Beginning about noon on Friday, with no snow actually falling but with all the other country signs shouting its imminent arrival, we started a generous fire in the hearth and kept it going during practically all our waking hours until Monday morning.  We sat around the fire for hours, with a stack of books and lap-tops at the ready.  We read aloud.  We played several spirited games of Boggle with the new set that appeared at Christmas.  We ate our evening meals against a background of flickering flame.  We talked.  Joan played the violin.  I wrote the final deathless paragraph of an essay I had been writing.  From time to time we would look up and out to gauge the progress of the increasingly silent snow.  Automated “emergency” phone calls from the police telling us to keep off the streets and mass emails from various institutions telling us that it would be useless to try go to the University or to church were unnecessary but tidy endorsements of decisions too obvious to have to make anyway.

On Sunday morning I woke up to a huge, cold moon eventually followed by bright, crisp sunshine.  Now we would have to pay for our winter idyll, as it would take at least half a day, working in sensible spurts punctuated by sensible, age-appropriate intermissions, to dig out the driveway and sidewalks.  I had positioned shovels, like the firewood, at the ready.  As I was somewhat grudgingly putting on my boots in preparation for battle I heard loudish mechanical sounds somewhere nearby, probably at a neighbor’s.  But when I put my head out it was Luis Chavez and his uncle.  The noise was that of a snow-blower, and it was blowing snow out of my driveway like crazy.  My intermittent relationship with Señor Chavez is not easily characterized.  It would need its own post, maybe its own blog.  Am I employer, employee, banker, friend, advisor, or “other”?  He keeps me guessing.  I hadn’t seen him in a while.  I supposed he was back in Guatemala, leaving me safe from the immigrant menace but snowbound and with little hope that Donald Trump would show up and dig me out.  He had a big smile.  So did I.