snow angels and the theory of northern cities

Moses, an  Albany resident, striking snow from a rock.

Moses, Albany snow angel.

This morning, I poked my head outside to look for the papers — the print version, or what I like to call the paper papers — and found a snow angel clearing my sidewalk. Snow angels are neighbors with snow blowers, or maybe just a strong back and a shovel. However they’re equipped, they’re a force of good on the planet, especially this part of the planet, especially when Madre Nature, feeling generous, dumps a blanket of fluffy hexagonal crystals more or less overnight.

I smiled and thanked the snow angel and ducked back inside, paper paper-less. About 15 minutes later I ducked back out again in search of these same old-school information circulators only to discover that a second snow angel had shoveled off my front steps. In another half an hour or so I went outside myself and started digging out my cars and driveway, joining my fellow smiling digger-outers engaged in the cold, bright industry of clearing off vehicles and steps and sidewalks and sundry after a storm. It wasn’t long before a third snow angel showed up and helped. I smiled and thanked him. He smiled back. Everybody happy.

Northeasterners in particular love to complain about winter. We love to complain about summer, too. The truth of the matter is, we love to complain about everything, including the fact that we complain so much. But winter kvetching is special, because the frigid agonies of the post-storm shovelrama bring with them a certain amount of joy — a joy that goes beyond our stupidly mocking moral superiority (I’ll admit it) over residents of warmer climes who spazz over a flurry. TWO INCHES IN L.A., AND THEY’RE FREAKING OUT? HA HA HA! BABIES! NERDLINGS! WIMPS! we say, forgetting our own wimpy-infant nerd-spazz over the occasional tectonic shiver that barely registers on a cup of Los Angeleno coffee, much less the Richter scale.

But when it comes to northern snowstorms, I think something else is going on besides bonehead geographic machismo. For years, I’ve had a theory — based on free-floating thoughts inside my own small, spongy head, nothing based on any sort of hard statistical evidence — that the reality of life in northern cities breeds a certain type of non-judgmental community spirit. This isn’t a red-state/blue-state or liberal/conservative issue. It’s a snowy sidewalk/cleared sidewalk issue.

If you’re a good neighbor, you shovel your sidewalk after a snowstorm. If you’re not, you don’t; instead, you leave it to melt and then freeze into horrible icy chunks that render the walkway dangerous and impassable, particularly for anyone rolling a wheelchair or a stroller. No one gives a damn what religion you are, which fried wing of which political party you represent, what color your skin is, what person of which sex you choose to share your bed and raise your children with, and whether you pack their lunches with Little Debbie snack cakes or organic kale.

Decent citizens keep their walks clear come winter. The most decent, the snow angels, help with everyone else’s.

Other parts of the country have their equivalent community-building acts of God, I know: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. But up here in the colder reaches — where our moods and our manners can seem chilly to outsiders — nothing builds and reinforces the connections between us than a blast of winter weather. If I didn’t know this before, I knew it after a family of six (plus Christmas guests!) took all of us in for four nights after an ice storm killed our power some years back.

I knew it again this afternoon, as I walked up my freshly dug-out street and crossed paths with a neighbor shuttling a plate of warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to his own snow angel across the way. He gave me one. I was still chewing it when I walked into my kitchen and found another such plate, this time with peanut butter, from another such neighbor. And I hadn’t even shoveled her sidewalk.

This is the other reason northerners love winter, at least when they aren’t hating on it. It’s the cookies. No one complains about those.

4 thoughts on “snow angels and the theory of northern cities

  1. Decent citizens keep their walks clear come winter. The most decent, the snow angels, help with everyone else’s. – well, in my part of pine hills, no niceness. i was climbing every icy mountain. snow removal in albany – an oxymoron perhaps?

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