humanity in a snowstorm

I have to admit it: I love snowstorms. I was thinking about this today while driving through one such not-quite-cataclysmic weather event, because of course when I’m behind the wheel I HATE HATE HATE snowstorms. Driving to work I hated them less than I did driving home, because there were fewer jerkheads on the road this morning than their were in mid-afternoon. Actually, I only counted one outright jerkhead, a guy who passed me into oncoming traffic and put all of our lives at risk. Thanks, pal.

But everyone else I encountered today supported all my many reasons for loving snowstorms. How so? Well, aside from being pretty and fetching in the most charming, Christmas-cardiest sense, and aside from giving both Young People and Older People with Remaining Knee Cartilage joy in the form of skiing and/or sledding and/or debilitating neck injuries, snowstorms also equalize everything and everyone in sight. They are the great leveler of humanity. It DOESN’T MATTER where you live, what you do for a living, how old you are, which gender you most closely identify with, which gender you most closely snuggle with, how often and neatly you clip your nose hairs, what color your skin and/or pancreas is, which name you call God in prayer and which candidate you voted for in the last election.

All that matters is the snow. You get stuck in it? Someone pushes you out. Someone else gets stuck in it? You help push them out. You don’t roll down your window, shout, “HEY, DUMBASS, DID YOU VOTE FOR TRUMP OR CLINTON IN NOVEMBER?” and then decide whether to assist them based on their answer. I’ve expounded before on the Theory of Northern Cities, i.e., my conviction that snow-plagued residents judge their neighbors less on their private lives than on their public habits in shoveling (or not) their sidewalks after a storm. But I chewed on this a little more than usual today, and not only because THE kindest young man with THE widest smile driving THE biggest snow plow pulled up next to me in the parking lot at work and offered to plow a path out to the street.

I thought about it because I’ve been haunted, lately, by all the partisan vitriol spewing from all sides around the internet and the country. People pretending refugees aren’t people. People talking about “other people’s babies.” People saying certain people will get what they deserve if they lose their health insurance, even if they die. People judging people. People dehumanizing and demonizing people. People forgetting that people are people, screwy and complicated and oblivious to their own hypocrisies —  and trying to get to work and back, even in a storm.

On the drive home, I passed one car after another in distress: buried, spun out, wedged in a snowbank, spinning its wheels, looking aimless and bereft in the middle of an intersection. But the drivers weren’t bereft. Every single one of them was surrounded by helpers. People digging, people pushing, people attaching rope from one car to another to haul that sucker out. I rolled down my window repeatedly to offer aid, but no one needed it, not until the woman standing on the side of the road — she really did look bereft — accepted a ride to a bus stop a mile away. Her name was Vivian. She worked at a nearby hotel. We talked about this weird March blizzard and wondered how many inches we’d get. I told her I was grateful for my snow tires. I think she was, too.

I know nothing else about that woman — not how she voted, not how she prays, not whom she loves. It’s a safe bet no one knew anything about anyone else they helped on the road today, either.  And it’s a safe bet no one cared.

the mysteries of winter

Please join me as I ponder a few imponderables in the midst of this late-winter mush we now call March.

1) Why do people Park Stupid? You know what I mean: I mean pulling up parallel on snowy streets, leaving two feet between their car and massive frozen dirty snowbanks — DIRECTLY OPPOSITE another parked car. Leaving an approximate width of, oh, six to eight inches for the passage of other vehicles. WHY do people do this?

2) Is this the reason for all the people driving backwards on one-way streets?

3)  Why do we in the snow belt take such pride in being miserable for five months out of the year?

4) Why do we keep saying spring begins in March, WHEN WE KNOW IT DOESN’T?

5) This from my childhood on a lake; I was reminded of it while driving through New Hampshire a couple weeks back. How do ice-fishermen fish on ice too to thin for everyone else and not fall in? Do they weigh less than normal people? Do they eat only the fish they catch?

6) Why DO people Park Stupid? Do they not like their side mirrors?

7) This from Washington, D.C., last week, where I observed two separate drivers who, trying to liberate their cars from ice, cluelessly and repeatedly gunned their engines and spun their wheels in an effort to get out, a futile effort that yielded nothing but that familiar frictional RRRWEEEEEEEEEEEEE of desperation. My question: Why, in an effort to help, did I embarrass my offspring by yelling: STOP! I’M FROM ALBANY, NEW YORK! PUT DOWN A BOARD! OR KITTY LITTER! OR SAND OR SOMETHING! If I had hailed from some town in Norway, would I have said STOP! I’M FROM LONGYEARBYEN!

8) Why do people cut me off in crappy snowy slushy icy weather, behaving as though I have the ability to, like, brake?

9) Why does winter insist on being so beautiful?

10) Why does the moon insist on shining so brightly?

11) What is it about shoveling after a snowstorm make us so damned cheerful?

12) Are we all on drugs?

13) Why were the birds singing so gloriously that morning last week when the temperature was around 80 below? Were they on drugs, too? My friend Steve Barnes called their tweeting “chirps of death.” Is he right?

14) Can I stop complaining, now?

15) Can I please stop being cold?

16) Can I please stop wearing long underwear?

17) Will spring ever come?

18) Really?

19) When?

my pal winter

winter pic


Earlier this week, as I was trekking through the windswept Times Union parking lot like Omar Sharif trekking through Siberia, my tragic inner wasteland reflected in my frosty beard and stricken cow eyes and eccentric, late-life obsession with bridge, I commented to the woman trekking alongside me that it was, ummm, cold.

What I said was: AHHHHH, IT’S COLD.

And what she was: AHHHHH, IT SURE IS.

And then I spouted the same crapo-philosophical pablum I almost always spout in such circumstances, which is: WELL, WE CHOOSE TO LIVE HERE.

And she said: HA HA HA, YES WE DO.


And she said: HA. YES WE COULD. BRRRR. HA.

At the time of this exchange, the temperature in the TU parking lot was a million degrees below zero. I told you my beard was frosty. But it had not yet begun to snow; that started later, a few hours before I was supposed to fly out of town to visit my oldest daughter but several damn hours after every damn flight was summarily canceled between here and there, and how else might I insert the word “damn” into this damn sentence?

I would like to blame winter for this turn of events, but that would be akin to blaming a cat for gracefully sticking its butt in my face when I’m trying to scratch it behind the ears. This is what winter does. Right now, it’s doing it really well. There is a million feet of snow in front of my house. I spent a million hours shoveling out this morning, even with the help of neighborly snow angels.

Another splat of philosophizing pablum I’ve been known to spew on occasion is this one: IF YOU LIVE HERE, YOU HAVE TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH WINTER. And this is true. I believe it. Winter is way easier to manage if you put your arm around its waist and give it a squeeze: go skiing, go skating, go sledding, and while you’re at it, wear lots of wool. Long underwear helps, too. And good boots.

But even my closest friends can be a pain in the arse on occasion, and this year, winter is getting on my nerves.

For instance: this is a transcript of our conversation this morning.

ME (shoveling): Well. My back hurts. You think you’re so cute, don’t you.

WINTER: What did you expect, grrrlfriend?

ME: I expected you to maybe take it easy on me. It’s not like I have ANYTHING ELSE GOING ON IN MY LIFE RIGHT NOW.

WINTER: What? Oh. I get it, Ms. Oh So Important Writer-Person. Like I’m supposed to, what, not dump 18 to 20 inches of snow on you because you’re revising your stupid book?

ME: I’m just saying.

WINTER: Oh, give me a break. I do this every year.

ME: Not like this!

WINTER (rolling its eyes): What a. . .

ME: Did you just call me a wuss?

WINTER (still rolling its eyes): You do choose to live here, you know.

ME: Screw you!

But a little while later, I took my son skiing at Catamount, and the heady whiff of fresh powder, cheap lift tickets and mild temperatures eased my grumbling a bit. Glancing from the slope over the snow-caked Berkshires, I had a second conversation with my friend winter.

ME: Gosh, you’re beautiful.

WINTER (batting its eyelashes): I was hoping you’d notice.

ME: You’re a lot of fun, too.

WINTER (giggling coquettishly): I know.

And I swear, my beard was melting.

facing the slope

photo (14)
“Ames,” says my brother Danny, somewhere near the windy top of Killington. “I want you to ski this black diamond with moguls. I’ll show you how to do it. You’ll be fine.”

You want to me to ski a black diamond with moguls, I repeat back. You’ll show me how to do it. I’ll be fine.

“You’ll be fine.”


It’s around 3:30 Saturday afternoon, we’ve been skiing all day on sucky icy lumpy conditions, and I’m wrecked. Every joint and muscle and piece of bone in my body hurts, including the tips of my pinkies. A few hours earlier I wiped out trying to turn on a lump of wet, ungroomed crap passing for snow, so I’m not in the best shape for any kind of black diamond, be it accessorized with moguls or not.

But Danny’s insistent. And he’s smiling. And he’s my brother. And I haven’t died so far today, so I’m on a streak of good fortune. Continue reading

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 Continue reading


round and round and round we go

guess we’re going this way

I love to skate. And so long as I’m skating counter-clockwise, I’m not half bad, looping around the rink with a freedom and fluidity that dupes me into regarding myself as graceful. Which I’m not. Believe you me, I’m not.

But on the ice, crossing right foot over left, right foot over left, I’m taller, less klutzy, more confident. I know how to move without crashing. I know how to stop without falling. And I know where I’m going: to the left.

Today at the Empire State Plaza, I found this westward motion strangely reassuring. As my youngest and I tooled around the smallish oval alongside the bundled, happy crowd, I felt the crushing grip of the week behind me loosen its cinch. This was a one-way street. I either skated counter-clockwise or not at all. I couldn’t just go renegade and skate to the right, not without toppling gooey young couples and retirees on vintage skates and pre-schoolers wobbling on double-runners, their parents wobbling along behind them.

How natural, after a loved one dies, to look back and log the days without her. My best friend  died on Monday; I’ve spent six days Pam-less, so far. So I backspin to the last time we gabbed, or the last time I glimpsed her, saying goodbye, or that day we kicked the soccer ball around with our boys, flushed with exertion.

But we live on an orb that rotates counter-clockwise. It presses to the left with an insistence that feels impossibly cruel. And yet, and yet. It keeps us whirling forward. We have no choice. We go to work, chat with colleagues. We go home, make supper for our children. Later on, a little too much later, we go to bed.

And in between, if we’re lucky, we skate.