Sunday, January 22, 2012


It snowed here a couple of days ago, nothing to speak of if you lived anywhere even a bit more northerly, but enough of an occurrence in Virginia to snarl traffic and cancel community events. This was not a blanket but rather a friable surface dotted here and there by the paw prints of small mammals. The roads became icy and the air whiny with the sound of spinning tires. I loaded my 15 pound sack of kitty litter into my car just in case.  I have an ancient German-made vehicle the bad manners of which are legendary in the snow so I travel with my own supply of salt and abrasives.

There was a time when I liked snow; I appreciated its ability to briefly cover the visually unattractive, and I liked the cottony silence it brought at night. When I first came to this country, the barest hint of snow was enough to bring kids and adults into the streets with sleds and skis, and I remember going to a hilly park in Washington DC where adult children vied to find the most outrageously inappropriate way to slide down a hill: flattened cardboard boxes were popular, as were plastic trashcans, abandoned doors from housing projects and a bare bottom or two. One group brought an old cast-iron bathtub that careened down the hill, flattened small trees and came to rest in a creek at the bottom of the incline.  Now, I’m told, sledding is forbidden in many places, just as is ball-playing in county parks without adult supervision. Too many lawsuits, too many lawyers.
Last year, according to the Vermont State Police, two Massachusetts men faced criminal charges after they got into a fight in the town of Jay when one of the men threw a snowball at the car of the other. Apparently, 49-year-old Charles Dow of Newton, Mass., lobbed a frozen projectile at a moving vehicle belonging to 39-year-old Robert Earley of Nantucket, Mass.  Police said Earley stopped the vehicle, got out and cursed and assaulted Dow, who was treated for his injuries at the North Country Hospital in Newport. Earley was cited into court on a charge of simple assault. Dow was charged with disorderly conduct.
Last year, fifteen people were arrested in downtown Washington for having a snowball fight, and a scandal ensued when a photograph taken during the melee showed that a DC police detective had drawn his gun after being hit in the back by a snowball. These are strange times.
It has now been disproved that no two snowflakes are alike.  Indeed, a lot of snowflakes are exactly similar.  Also, Eskimos do not have a hundred words for snow, just a dozen or so like everybody else. Legends are being shamelessly dispelled.

I was reminded by a French friend that the last time there was a serious snow fall in Paris—an event that occurs once a decade, if that—both of the city’s snow plows were out of commission, and their two drivers on strike for better wages and benefits. Somehow there’s nothing surprising about that.

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