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My Unwelcoming Spring

Until I caught sight of those Merganser ducks darting up the river, I was trusting on a late winter. I admit: this lingering hope is less a concern over global warming that my profound affection for winter’s cold and snow.

In a part of New York State known for its blizzards and low temperatures, year-round residents expect that even by March, some sign of the season’s snow accumulation still will be with us. Alas, there’s not a hint of it.

You don’t live in this part of the world unless you appreciate winter’s magic and learn how to cope with its hazards. I have fond and still vivid memories growing up in Canada plodding through passageways banked by heaps of clean snow. We never glimpsed the earth itself for three full months when automobiles were outfitted with tire chains for the season too. Every driver learns how to manage a car on packed snow and all children skate on nearby frozen ponds, even though each winter was marred by an accidental death of someone falling through the ice. Even we Arab immigrant kids learned to protect ourselves from frostbite and handily pull off chunks of snow stuck to our clothing and our hair.

Winter still means a lot of preparation, even with today’s amenities. Last fall, I added a space heater for supplemental heat in my office; I had the basement ceiling newly insulated with six inches of foam; I ordered a cord of seasoned logs and arranged extra kindling; I topped up the oil tank; and I purchased new tights, socks and shirts from UNIQLO, the Japanese company that manufactures ‘heattech’, a remarkable warmth- conserving fabric.

I was ready. Confident I’d enjoy this season even more than winters past, I waited. When New York City was struck by a ‘superstorm’ –everything there has to be supersize– I felt envious. Especially since it never arrived here. (Anyway I doubt their blizzard was as severe as they allege. You know how New Yorkers are. They claim it was a record–the third or fourth worst in their memory; but third or fourth is not a record.)

Upstate towns did have one brush with winter—on Valentine’s Day– when the pipes froze. Yet still no snow. Once we had some ‘precipitation’ that stayed on the ground one night, enough that school was canceled and the heavy snowplow was called out. I usually curse these rattling machines roaring by at 4:30 in the morning. But this year I pitied the driver who, paid by the hour, has had skimpy winter paychecks. Only twice all winter was I awakened by the plow scraping up what flakes it could manage along its path.

There wasn’t enough snowfall to create that magical wonderland where we feel suspended in a crystal ice bubble– total silence and stillness. Awakening in the morning after a heavy downfall you know from an eerie calm that the world is covered in a foot, perhaps (hopefully) more, of pure white snow.

I suppose that ‘snowbirds’ — northern residents, especially grandparents, who head to Florida these months– will be disappointed. All that dislocation and expense while the folks back home enjoyed record low fuel bills.

I’ve know a freakish snow to arrive in May; so winter might yet appear. They say snow is essential for some spring flora to blossom. And what about maple syrup? Surely maple tree sap can’t run without a healthy input of heavy snow.

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Barbara Nimri Aziz is a New York based anthropologist and journalist. Find her work at www.RadioTahrir.org. She was a longtime producer at Pacifica-WBAI Radio in NY.

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