There are few things more magical than a snowfall, and few terms more overused to describe it.
Nonetheless, the cliché communicates the outright miracle of slowing a world that refuses to slow itself. As the flakes fall, and the cardinals and Jenny wrens bob back and forth from feeder to trees, I am entranced.
24 hours later, I am so over it.
I have a running dialogue with a very dear friend that begins around the end of November and continues ad nauseam until the daffodil blossoms break.
She maintains that if it’s cold, it should snow.
I maintain that, as the Mid-Atlantic is a region where there is no chance of snow hanging around long-term and insulating the ground against the normal onslaught of frigid temperatures, nor is it a region filled with 9,000 foot peaks topped with cozy skiing lodges for the intrepid, I’m good without the occasional complication and accompanying suburban media freak-out.
This year she started a shared text thread with my equally enthusiastic daughter (for whom she functions as a ‘cool,’ alternate, mom), where they exchange GIFs of pandas rolling down snowy hills, and Will Ferrell nonsense, and frequent screen shots forecasting ‘snow events’ (when did we change this terminology I wonder), and I counter with the Heat Miser shaking his fists at the skies.
My friend’s enthusiasm is childlike and wonderful, and an extension of an enviable personality that searches for merit before fault. Secretly I am ashamed at the contrariness it instantly inspires in me (and which Scott Beuerlein at Garden Rant constantly falls over himself to mention). But I am a pragmatic soul, and there are animals to care for, and so many young shrubs and trees that often need tying up or careful, post-event extrication.
Five years ago, a rogue snow storm dumped 24 inches in two days and 18 inches a few days later. It quite literally flattened my new and precious Edgeworthia chrysantha, splitting branches which I had to meticulously excavate and then (successfully) splint with flexible tape.
My friend was not splinting her edgeworthia. She was sledding.
Throughout several nights I had to trudge down to the vegetable garden to keep cheap and cheerful mini-hoophouses from collapsing under the weight of the snow, wondering if the lettuce and chard was really worth it. In waist-high drifts we dug a tunnel from house to far-off woodyard to feed the furnace to keep us warm.
My friend is not checking hoophouses. She is not feeding a furnace. The deeper the snow, the happier she is drinking cocoa indoors and watching her Husky frolic like the dog he was born to be.
The year of that record snow was also the year that one of the male guineas had an injured foot and the other male chased his limping, broken figure so relentlessly over icy drifts that even my flint-like heart broke in sympathy.
Catching either one of them was laughably impossible. Instead we watched the Order of All Things unfold in front of us every morning over breakfast and developed hearts even harder than the ones we had started with.
This year I have an injured duck, whose bill is now half a bill thanks to the attentions of a wicked raccoon. Each morning I head down to the duck house with a kettle of boiling water to unfreeze their water trough and a bowl of soupy oatmeal to scoop into my hand and force her to eat much like a French goose heading for foie gras.
I’m not saying that kneeling in duck poo and runny oatmeal with clumps of snow melting in the space between my inner thighs and a squirming bird isn’t invigorating. I’m just saying that there are better ways of being invigorated.
Yes, it is beautiful. There are mornings when my eyes open to rest upon the pink-flushed bark of the young tulip poplars against a hillside of white – and I am sweetly and painfully thankful for this cathedral in the woods. Yes, it is very beautiful.
And to rail against the inconvenience of snow is not to rail against winter. I am no fair-weather gardener, and once I have made the mental shift from the growing season to the ice-times, I willingly, if reluctantly, battle the cold, clothed warmly and gratefully against it each day.
It’s just that the snow makes everything a little more…complicated.
My husband says we live in a place of winter purgatory – forced to endure cold temperatures without the skiable Sierra Nevada mountains of our youth.
Perhaps he is right. Perhaps the snow is an issue for me because most of the time, it isn’t.
Or perhaps the fairly recent lack of little ones taking delight in the occasional snowfall has me reducing something miraculous to a clinical list of pros and cons.
Or maybe it’s just COVID making me an intolerant witch lately.
So what do you say? Snow good? Snow bad? And do avoid shaming me for considering my USDA 6b garden as extreme, or characterizing my piddling flocks and domestic pets as ‘animals’. I recognize that in the scheme of things, this most definitely makes me a snowflake.
Love the children’s books references of Ping and Jemima! I live in New England, very near the coast, so am in the same situation…we get snow but it doesn’t last.
I would never shame you for considering your USDA zone 6b garden as extreme. I live in zone 8b and just had my first taste of an outside temperature of -6 degrees in my zone 8b. It is extreme by my standards, and sorry, but I’m not up to -6 degrees. I like snow until it breaks 4 or 5 large live oak limbs off my trees and requires $500. worth of tree trimming to make it safe to go outside. With that said, a light snow is pretty, but anything more than two inches needs to fall where it’s expected, which isn’t in my area of the country.
I sympathize Laura – those limbs are tragic losses! – MW
Your thoughts and writing seem to get better and better ! It’s a delight !!
I attended a talk you gave at Wing Haven and have been a fan ever since.
Come visit Wing Haven again soon !!
Thank you Carolyn – so very glad you enjoyed it. I’ll be speaking at Winghaven virtually about my new book ‘Tropical Plants and How to Love Them’ at 10am on March 11th. The registration details are on the site. Hope you can join us! – MW
Thanks, I loved this article. I’m a couple of planting zones colder than you, but I have a similar perspective. My goal is to look out the window and realize how beautiful it is every day. But I am human. Some days the thought of all the work I have to do to deal with the snow can overwhelm my ideas of the beauty outside.
As I get older, I am more and more grateful for what we have.
Thanks again. Keep writing
I am very grateful too Eric. It’s important to hold that thought when the work feels like it is too much. Thank you for your wise comment. – MW
Well said! My feelings exactly (all except the animals as I have none to fuss over) though I admit that I am always awed by a snowy landscape. Only one thing to add – better snow than ice!
100% agree! Never knew ice before we moved to the MidAtlantic. What a beautiful mess it is! – MW
Hello from Maine,
Marianne, all I can say is, you are lucky it’s snow. It melts! There is the ying and yang to winter weather. I’ve spent nearly 72 years with winters here in Maine waiting for the snow to melt, the rains to cease and the mud to dry up. I pull out all the photos of the green and glorious colorful gardens I tend to furtively for almost the other 6 months and well, it is certainly worth the wait. Hang in there! I also think Covid has added to our angst. You are not alone.
Secondly, your dog caught my eye. We had one that looks just like yours. His name was Mr. Jake. He was part Jack Russell and I believe a tall beagle variety. He was very strong, loved the gardens, dug the best holes, and loved us fiercely. We miss him terribly and seeing yours brought tears to my eyes. Ok, enuf.
Keep writing and yes, I smell spring in the air.
I just wanted to say thanks for the post on your blog about snow. I couldn’t agree more!
As someone who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic, I’ve never understood why people get so excited about snow. It’s just a pain to shovel and it doesn’t even stay around for very long.
I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Keep up the good work! 🙂
It’s amazing how something so beautiful can also be so frustrating. Yes, it’s great to look at – but dealing with the aftermath is another story!