The past week witnessed back to back snowstorms; long hours of snowfall left us with 6-7 inches of snow over Amherst. Looking out through the window, I could imagine being in Alaska, but the igloos were missing in the picture.It was the third phase of Arctic air passing through Massachusetts, New England. Waking up in the morning, the first concern was about heating at home, is it warm enough? And if you are heading out, adequate layers of clothing, boots, hat, and gloves need to be there to keep you sane when the temperature plummets to -21 F. The weather channel said that it felt like -29 F.
A short walk to the bus stop the other day felt a journey going on forever. It was windy and every gust touching me was more like blades of steel slicing right through the body. There was a deceiving sun that sparkled and beckoned me and when I stepped out, the cold slapped me on the face. I wanted to walk because there was some need for oxygen to reach the brain. Days of staying indoors was taking its toll and catching me with a cabin fever, and it was suffocating. Walking was not a smart choice on that cold, cold day. The heat of the sun was causing snow to melt and the sidewalks were slippery with ice. A fall and breaking of bones were not my plans for the day and so instead of walking anymore, I called an Uber and went to my destination. The Uber and Lyft have started operating around Amherst about a year back and at times they are saviors to people in need of rides.
We live in the Pioneer Valley and the mountains around us stand like white soldiers against the backdrop of the blue sky. The snow on the mountains is like God’s way of putting glue on the peaks, making sure that they are balancing the gravity of the Earth. The branches of the trees, barren of leaves, formed dark, lacy veils against the infinity of the sky. Unless one is familiar with the seasonal changes in New England, it is difficult to imagine how the bare trees would be green with the coming of spring and summer. In the downtown, sights of icicles hanging from the roofs of some houses are beautiful. As the sun climbed higher, some of them had the hanging ice melting and their dripping water made dents in the fresh snow.
This year’s winter has been strange, with extreme cold or unusually high temperatures. Some of the smaller plants have not lost their leaves and they are bent like sick people under heavy, white blankets. In the winters of past years, those same plants were bared of leaves and at times I’d catch rabbits hiding beneath them. I don’t recall seeing rabbits in the midst of winter in the recent years though.
Each snowfall leaves its tales of life on the snow. Deer tracks mark the white near the evergreen trees in the backyard; they usually come to feed on the trees when rest of the food is scarce in the mountains. And then there are the stick-like finger marks of wild turkeys that come to feed in the garden, at times they go up on the crab apple tree and peck on dry fruits clinging to the braches. But things get scary when the footprints are round that are from bears or cougars that come down looking for food. When you see that, you know to be on the watch if you happen to be walking or decide that staying at home with warm coffee is the better option after all.
When the snow falls there is a hushed silence all around. I watch the snowflakes swirling down, gentle and fairylike. If there is a wind, the snowflakes come down faster. Few birds that stay back to dare the winter, fascinate me. With their tiny bodies, they sing and flutter about the brown trees even when the snow is falling. I cringe at the thought of their bodies getting frozen while the Arctic- air blows. The other day when the temperature dropped to -21 F, even the birds were quiet. The complete silence outside, made me feel as if I was transported to another land. All the familiar sounds were missing. When the snow ceased the snow-trucks came and started to clear the streets. It is always comforting to listen to the sounds of those engines and the “clank, clank “as the huge blades clear the streets. But then comes the difficult part, all the house owners are responsible for clearing their driveways. If a visitor comes and falls in the driveway, he or she can sue you for not following the law. Law is executed word for word. So you gear yourself, take the shovel and start clearing the snow.
Some friends in Massachusetts keep up with physical activities through dancing in winter. There are different groups that meet for contra, English country, waltz, salsa and others. Two hours of dancing is supposed to be as good as two hours of running. And of course it’s also the time to drink hot apple cider, hot chocolate and just indulge yourself with good food that makes you happy. People with fewer resources know the pains of going through a cold winter on an empty stomach and no heat at home. And so when you live in such cold places like New England and have a warm house, warm clothes, and warm food, you are the lucky one. Here also comes the reminder of sharing your blessing, making sure people around you are benefitted by you in one way or the other. While we sail through the cold winter, we remember the words of P. B. Shelly, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?“
Tulip Chowdhury writes from Massachusetts, USA