I’d planned, this morning, to pay a visit to The Wonder Horse, dust him off, bond with him, give him a treat, and send him back to the Great Outdoors (or, at least, as much of it as is enclosed by his electric fence). A quick glance at the weather changed my mind. It’s 11 degrees. I just can’t see stripping my horse nekkid, even in the barn, and obliging him to stand still just so I can fluff his air and shine him up. Yes, he needs to be groomed for health reasons. No, it doesn’t need to happen today, not at 11 degrees. Besides, the thinsulate in my barn gloves is wearing out. I discovered this when I went by to say a big “hello!” to him, give him four carrots and two horse muffins. After that fairly brief foray, the tips of every one of my fingers was on fire. Also, anything liquid in my grooming kit (like his Anti-ZAP Spray) was frozen like a rock. The heck with this, he’ll get clean on another day.
We’re under our first winter storm warning of the season, and it’s just started to snow. National Weather Service is saying maybe 6″, maybe a foot, maybe a little more. I have the inclination to be thrilled because my ski hill is rolled into the Warning area, which means more trails open, more fresh snow, and a whole lot of fun. I have the leisure to be thrilled because school’s out of session, I don’t have to commute to anything but the grocery store, the barn, and the ski area, and I can afford to keep the terrifyingly ancient and massive barrel in my basement full of heating oil. So, from where I sit, this winter storm is great news, pure and simple.
It’s not without its inconveniences, though. I know, for example, as I look out of my window, I am probably seeing the clear surface of my driveway for the last time until April. And last night was, in all likelihood, the last night for the next four months when parking my car and Roy’s in the driveway was completely uncomplicated. And Huey’s farrier is coming out on Wednesday to pull his shoes off for the winter, but right now, things are just a little on the slick side for him, which strikes a little arrow of fear that he’s going to injury himself AGAIN horsing around in his already snow-covered paddock.
Then, of course, there’s the grocery store.
Now, I’m from Texas. Houston, in specific, but I spend plenty of time in Austin, San Antonio, and College Station.
In Texas-speak, “flurry” means that someone on the freeway saw four things that they thought might be snowflakes.
In New England-speak, “flurry” means that it isn’t snowing hard enough to make it impossible to drive. It’s been “flurrying” like this pretty much all week up at the ski hill. On Tuesday morning, we had “flurries” that put an inch and a half of snow on the car in the space of a few hours. Yesterday, it was “flurrying” all morning long, making it impossible to ski without goggles. Not that I want to ski without goggles – cold air, contact lenses, stray tree branches, and stuff – but my goggles fogged up on the chair lift despite the anti-fog coating, and started raining inside, so I had to take them off for the rest of the run in order to be able to see anything at all. But I then had to stop every couple of minutes and scrape the “flurry” out of my eyelashes. And the plows were out, treating the roads on the way home. That’s a New England “flurry” for you.
In Texas, a weatherman using the word “Flurry”, or “Sleet” is a Sign of the Apocalypse. It’s the signal for everyone in town to get in a car or board a bus, and stampede to the grocery store/Costco/Sam’s/Walmart/package store and empty it out. I’ve seen desperate people brawling in the aisles over the last case of Pellegrino. You can’t find a can of beenie-weenie, chili, or soup anywhere in the territory covered by the weather station. Parking lots become a madhouse, but that’s nothing to compare to the violent rodeo of the checkout line. Panic reigns supreme.
In New England, no one pays any attention at all until the weatherman starts using the words “winter storm warning.” A watch? Pshaw. If it’s not a “warning” it’s not happening. The weather in New England is inherently unpredictable, according to my Harvard Physicist Buddy who knows about these things. She says that it’s the density of the mountain range, which makes them act more like a big tall range than the short one they are, and the proximity to the ocean, and the proximity to the giant plains of Canada. No one here with two brain cells to rub together pays any attention to the long term forecasts, and by “long-term” I mean “more than 18 hours out”. It was different in Texas, and Wisconsin, for that matter. The weathermen there could forecast the approximate half-hour when some weather system was going to roll in. Here in New England, we’re lucky to get accurate forecasting for what’s going to happen in the next six hours. Both of the days I went skiing the week, for example, had forecasted “mix of clouds and sunshine” and “precipitation 0%” at 8am when I left the house, when what we actually got was a total of 4 inches of snow.
So they don’t use the words “winter storm warning” here unless 1) the storm isn’t on the doorstep, but it’s been sighted walking up the path to the front door, and 2) it’s going to drop truckloads of snow, and maybe some ice. Or, in the wrong time of year, or under evil circumstances, truckloads of ice, and maybe some snow.
The thing is, even when the forecasters do use the words “winter storm warning” what happens is that some people go check the woodshed to make sure it’s still full, some people double-check to make sure the storm windows are in place, and all the people who planned to do the weekly grocery shopping tomorrow decide to do it today instead. No panics, no raids, no fights breaking out anywhere. It’s really quite dull.
Now, what you also have are a pile of skiers paying very close attention to those forecasts, and you might wind up with a minor traffic jam on some country road in the Vermont mountains as a critical mass of people flee into the storm … just to be certain of being a skip and a hop away from the base area and chairlifts when the weather kicks in – or for the saner of us – when the wind starts to die down a bit. That kind of excitement I can absolutely get behind. Roy and I were part of one of those epic junkets last winter, as a matter of fact. I wouldn’t want to be traveling up Vermont 100 right now. Not because of the snow, but because of the massive exodus of sport utes from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. With any luck, the Massachusetts State Police Operation Ski Trap is in full swing, lining our coffers and engaging wealth transfers to pay for roads, state parks, and essential social services.
Anyway, there’s nothing that makes me feel quite as Festive as a mid-December snowfall. It’s feeling like time for a mug of hot chocolate. I might even have a candy cane to stir it with. I need to go say “goodbye” to my driveway. See you next spring, you gleaming asphalt strip! Au revoir, curbs! Two-way streets, later alligator! Catch you when the seasons turn again, and hopefully, that won’t be until April!