During Snow Emergency
So say the red, white and blue signs that showed up all over town about a month ago, and not a minute too soon. I'm not sure exactly what constitutes a Snow Emergency1, but we apparently had one a week ago and, as usual, things went to heck in a hand basket. The sight of falling snow gives people a sudden, urgent need to buy bread and toilet paper. Motorists forget everything they know about driving; some flip their cars over while others dive for the relative safety of ditches. Heck, the snow plough drivers end up in ditches. Meteorologists interrupt television programmes every 15 minutes with the news that - gasp - it was still snowing. TV newspersons tell everybody to stay off the roads, presumably to avoid running down all of the newspersons who are, of course, on the roads interviewing all the other folks who just had to venture out. Do we know how to have a crisis, or what?
The cold has made everyone short-tempered. There seems to be a bit of a gang problem at the bird feeders this winter. Someone needs to remind the mourning doves that they're a symbol of peaceful coexistence. A group of them will invade and spend their time eating and fighting. When the doves are done squaring off, the juncos2 take up arms. There is little chivalry among the cold and hungry; the male juncos regularly drive off the females. One day last week I spotted a male and female junco sitting on opposite ends of the deck railing and eyeing each other, looking just like a married couple who'd gone out for a bite to eat but were no longer on speaking terms by the time they arrived at the restaurant. Nonetheless, the birds are little troupers. No hiding out the minute the snow starts to fly, no, sir. The worse the weather, the more determined they are in their pursuit of food. If there isn't any to be had, they'll sit around the deck, snow piling up on their wee heads, and stare at the French door until I emerge with the bag of seed.
The weather may not stop the birds, but it seems to get the better of us humans. Anything is an excuse for the local schools to close down, to the dismay of parents whose employers would try to remain open during Armageddon3. One day last week, when it was about 5°F (-15°C) outside, an entire school system cancelled classes on account of the cold. You Canadians can snicker now.
I must admit, though, that a little bit of snow on the roads around here really can be hazardous. I live in the foothills of the Appalachians, and those beautiful hills that are so much fun to sled down are no fun at all when you're in a car or, God forbid, driving a bus full of schoolchildren. A number of the larger school districts are out in the hills and hollers, where shadows can hide patches of black ice or deep snow on the narrow and winding roads. So when the snowflakes fly, the kids get a free day, while their parents try to arrange for day care so they can go to work and worry about what the kids might be up to at home. We're all out of sorts, and we grumble and wonder why the heck humans don't hibernate.
Speaking of hibernating, February 2 was Groundhog Day in the US. According to folk legend, on that day the groundhog, who is smart enough to hibernate in winter, emerges from his burrow and takes a look around. If he sees his shadow, so the legend goes, he scoots back underground to snooze through the next six weeks of winter. If it's gloomy and overcast, though, he decides it's time to go a-courtin' (without much luck, because the girls are still below ground getting their beauty sleep). Stupid groundhog, no? Well, don't be too hasty. A quick glance at the calendar reminds us that love - or a reasonable facsimile of same - is on our minds, too, what with Valentine's Day looming, and no, a snow blower is not an appropriate gift for the light of your life.
Actually I wish I hadn't looked at the calendar. Last year when the temperatures were still tolerable, I spotted this wonderful Demotivators Calendar and got one for myself. I forgot that I'm usually depressed out of my frozen skull in winter and that I wouldn't find the calendar nearly as amusing when it was time to use it. For example, one page reminds me that 'a journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly', illustrating the point with a picture of spawning salmon leaping upriver and right into a bear's mouth. This is not the sort of thing to think about when you're slogging uphill against the wind in bitter cold. Nor should you remind yourself that 'quitters never win, and winners never quit, but people who never win and never quit are idiots', which sure sounds like a good excuse to take to your bed for a month or three.
Still, you can't beat the adrenaline rush and that feeling of raw courage you get when you pull on ten layers of clothing and head out to the mail box4. Outta the way, birds! Go courting elsewhere, groundhog! Even if we're feeling less than chipper, we can still stage a crisis like nobody's business, and we revel in the thought that our antics keep the Canadians amused.