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Lately, when I'm not preoccupied with thoughts of frozen pipes, power outages, soaring oil bills and shrinking woodpiles, I’m usually thinking about snow and sleet and rain and freezing rain and sleet and snow mixed with rain. Who knows why? It may have something to do with the fact that there's a mound of hard-packed, frozen snow about 12 feet high just outside my window here at our dacha. My thoughts of snow might also have something to do with the fact that when our plow-guy comes to free us after each storm the once-wide driveway gets a tad narrower with each visit and the large lawn around the house becomes more and more just a distant memory, buried under several feet and snowplowed mounds. It was nothing personal, but after our plow-guy's last visit we told him we never wanted to see him again.
Living here on the 45th parallel, between the equator and the North Pole, we're supposed to have balanced winters. But the winter we've been having lately is at least a half-bubble off plumb. It's almost like there's a new guy at Mother Nature's weather control panel, and he's still trying to figure out which lever or button does what. First he pushes the “snow dusting” button and sure enough that’s what we get. Moving on, he may try the “blizzard” lever and just like that we're having a full-blown event. Still moving on he plays with the sleet, freezing rain, snow and mixed precipitation controls, and we're down here just taking it all because there's nothing we can do about it.
The winter has been so bad I'm almost tempted to go to Florida and I would if it weren't so hot there.
Just the other day, once our half-mile driveway was plowed I drove around to see what the rest of the town looked like. I don't know about your town but here the guys who plow the roads like to set their plows about three or four inches above the surface of the road. Sure, it makes for roads that are poorly plowed and downright dangerous to drive on, but our town plow guys say the raised plows don't hurt the roads as much and since their plows never touch the road they don't wear our their plow blades as fast, either. And isn't that what's most important?
Who cares about driving conditions? What's important is not scraping the roads too much and not wearing out those precious plow blades.
Anyway, while doing all this thinking about snow I was reminded of something I read somewhere about how the Eskimo language has at least 32 distinct words for “snow,” some of them I can't even repeat in a family newspaper). Well, it turns out that whole Eskimo language thing is an urban legend, and the Eskimos have about the same number of words for snow that we do.
While looking out my window at the snow pile that now blocks my view of the stand of pine across the yard, I figured that made sense. We have a lot of snow-related words in our language, too, and most of them are getting a pretty good workout this winter.
We can talk about a snowstorm and way the air feels just before it starts to snow. We talk about the snowflakes that make up the snowstorm and the snowstorm that might suddenly turn to freezing rain or slushy rain or just rain and then back to snow.
Before snow becomes a regular part of the seasonal mix we might have several mornings of heavy frost, which isn't really snow but it gets you to thinking about what's coming. Once snow is on the ground we talk of things like powdery snow or snow with a thick frozen crust.
You know what? I'm starting to talk like an Eskimo.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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