A blog about a first-time house owner learning to maintain his backyard, and thoughts about nature, science, history, and life.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Majesty of a February Snowstorm

I'd like to invite you into a magical experience of a winter's night. I encourage you to look at each photo for at least a few seconds before reading the text that follows...I think you'll enjoy what I've written more if you take some time to take in the scene as well.

Yesterday I posted about the February 8-9 2013 blizzard from a more analytical point of view, looking at the storm through my meteorologist's lens. Today, though, it's a more personal look at the storm and my experience of it.  I knew that the snow would be winding down late Friday night, so I decided to wait until late to go outside and shovel.  There's something magical about being outside, alone, in a freshly fallen snow.  My original plan was to somewhat quickly shovel about half of the driveway, snap some shots for the blog, and leave the rest for Saturday.  But this was while my view of the night and its power was still blurry.

After a little while outside though, I realized that I wasn't getting cold, and I decided to take my time and bask in the glory of a late-night dwindling snowstorm.  It was still snowing a little bit, but I could certainly get away with shoveling it all now and not having to do another round the next morning.  My vision - not my eyesight, my vision - began to clear.  I could see the value of enjoying the moment, of taking in the sights, sounds, and thoughts of a quiet winter's night.  And a whole new world opened to me.

I looked back at my house, where I still have some holiday lights on.  (The kitchen light was streaming through a side window, too.)  I remembered why I've left the lights on.  It was to help me to get through the long, cold, dark winter.  Yes, the winter is still cold, and it's certainly been dragging on long enough.  But I can see that the sunsets are slowly getting later, the days are getting longer, and the sun is peeking through the clouds a little more frequently.  Today, a couple of days in the wake of the storm, was a rare sunny day in Freeville. 

By now, the roads were in fairly good shape, covered with a thin, packed coating of snow that provided some traction.  For the whole hour-plus that I was outside, I didn't see a single plow.  Well, I didn't see a single MUNICIPAL plow...there were a couple of private trucks with plows on the front that were either going from one job to the next or headed home after a long evening of clearing parking lots.  I only saw a few cars going by while I was out there...certainly less than on a typical Friday night.  Normally, I get a bit upset when people come flying through Freeville, but it didn't bother me one bit to see a truck hitting the pedal a bit too hard on this night.  It was strange: because it was so quiet, I felt a connectedness with the folks whizzing by and even timidly flashed a quick wave at a couple of the folks driving past.

But the whole reason that I was outside was to clear the driveway.  And as I usually am when I have a task to do that I don't particularly want to do, I was methodical about it.  I started by clearing a path on each side of the driveway, so that I could easily push strips of snow from one side to the other.  I worked my way from the street towards the car.  I would normally park out by the street so that I only need to clear by the car and fashion myself a path from the front door to the car...this would give me as much time as I want to shovel out the rest of the driveway.   But I didn't do that this time, and it allowed me to experience more of the snowstorm.  By the way, most of these photos are re-touched.  The originals were pretty terrible, and I had to adjust the brightness and contrast.  For this one, I also put it in grayscale to take out the yellow-orange afterglow of the streetlights.  Snow should look white, right?

There's a bit of a mystery for me here in Freeville.  Well, if you've been reading the blog for a while, you probably know that there are quite a few mysteries for me here in Freeville.  But the one I'm referring to now is the one in this picture.  After every snowstorm, the Great Snowblower of Freeville ventures out into the elements and clears Freeville's sidewalks of snow.  At first, I thought it was whoever clears the post office's sidewalks being nice and clearing a few neighboring sidewalks.  But no, it's both sides of the street, for as far as I could see last night.  So to the Great Snowblower of Freeville: I have no idea who you are, but thank you.

One of the nice things about this snow was that it wasn't too heavy.  The convenient thing about this is that it was fairly easy to push and lift the snow with my shovel.  Even though we had about 8.5" on the ground, it was fairly easy work.  Because the snow was dry and fluffy, though, I had to abort my attempt to build a snowman on Saturday night, and fairly quickly (because I wasn't getting anywhere).  And on Friday night, when I was shoveling, I couldn't secure my shovel in the snow by the side of the driveway.  In the photo above, I had stuck the shovel in the snow but had to quickly pull it up before it toppled over.

But out in the pile of snow left by the Great Snowblower of Freeville, the snow was deep and dense enough to secure my shovel.

It's funny how your experience of things in the moment and your memory of them after the fact are usually pretty different.  In this photo, I've pretty blatantly changed the color scheme, so that what was once a yellowish-orange tinge is now a cool, pale blue.  But if you hadn't seen the other photos, you could easily believe that this was the way it looked, yes?  In fact, as I was re-touching this photo, I thought that this looked "right"...for a moment there, my memory of the colors of the actual experience - and the photos I'd been working on - was completely lost.

But here's the mailbox in "true color".  The photo's only been retouched for contrast and brightness, because the original was a bit dim.  Pretty easy to tell which way the wind was blowing, yes?

One of the other mysteries of the night for me were these small "footprints" in the snow.  I knew they weren't actually footprints.  I've seen bare paths in the snow-covered grass at Cornell above underground heating pipes, and I wondered if these little depressions might have been caused by something similar.  But a stirring of the air led me to the only possible conclusion - these were the footprints of the wind.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the night for me was that I was outside in this tremendous snowstorm, and yet for much of that time, there was little to no wind.  Of course, I knew that I was far from the roiling center of the storm offshore of New England...but it was still strange to be amid such a peaceful setting when I knew that nature's fury was boiling over only a few hundred miles away.  There were times, though, when gusts of wind blew through.  I could hear them rustling through the trees; I could see them knocking little snowballs off of the branches and power lines, making footprints where they landed in the snow; and I could, at times, feel the powder whipping against my face as the flakes were brushed off the branches by a gentler breeze.

Once I started paying attention to the wind, it seemed to be almost toying with me (and the flag at the post office)...perfectly calm one instant...but flaring up quickly in the next.

By this point, my mind - like the snow when a gust came along - was blown.  But in a good way.  I was feeling appreciation for the beauty of the snow, for the mystery of the wind, for the experience of a winter's night.  I felt a connectedness with it all, much like the intertwining snow-covered branches of the trees.

At one point, a van approached, but instead of continuing on down the road, it stopped in front of the bus station.  I had an idea of what the man (or woman) in the van was up to, but a little later, I wanted to be sure...

Yup, it was the delivery of Saturday's Ithaca Journal.  I'm sure the snowstorm was front page news!

I wandered back home knowing that I was done my share of cleaning up from the storm, but also knowing that plenty of folks out there had more work to do.   Here in Freeville, the parking lot at the post office still had to be plowed.

Before I headed inside, I took in my freshly cleared driveway and the sights and sounds of a majestic snowstorm's night...just one more time.

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