From Rain to Riches?

Snowstorm in Finland.
Snowstorm in Finland.

It's like that houseguest who won't leave, lingering around the crudités way past the point of scintillating conversation. He was a nice addition to the party at first, a bit of company while things were heating up, but then he made himself at home, kicking off his shoes and guzzling your booze without even saying "please." Everyone else is ready to go to bed, but this guy just doesn't get it. That is what the snow has felt like. Go home, Snow, you're drunk.

We've dealt with this unwanted houseguest for nearly four months, and still it lingers in dirty patches. Even when it seems like the snow is ready to leave, like the river might mobilize again, it changes its mind and sits back down. Finally, finally, the snow has turned to rain, prompting me to reflect on the two forms of precipitation that speak to differences between West-Coasters and East-Coasters.

In Oregon, this whole "snow" thing doesn't happen very often, so I was willing to humor its presence for a while. When I experienced my first blizzard sophomore year, I jumped around like a golden retriever, giddy as I waded in snow up to my knees. The white powder was cute and magical at first. No longer. Over the years I have become old and jaded and highly unenthused about jumping in piles of frozen water. The sidewalk salt has been trekked indoors and turned our floors a mottled green, like colonies of lichen on our linoleum.

"The difference between us and Stanford is that we trudge, and they ride bicycles." Professor John Stilgoe made this pithy comment on a particularly snowy day in the middle of lecture. And indeed, people warned me about the brutal winters, questioning why I would ever want to leave the West Coast. (I wonder the same thing whenever I get a whiff of my snow boots.)

But the snow has taught me something that the misty West Coast doesn't instill in quite the same way: patience. I was ready to retire my snow boots mid-January, but alas, I had to wait. Trudging across campus is a much larger ordeal when it involves dressing for the Arctic and nearly twisting your ankle on frozen sidewalks, slowing everything else down in the process. "Senior spring" of college takes on a very different connotation when the city has yet to thaw by April. While rain makes the earth smell alive, makes us feel like a part of nature, snow makes us feel utterly, nakedly human -- a victim to the elements. I understand why Bostonians always seem defensive: the very sky is out to get them.

Yet at the same time, the snow can masque our worst elements in a shroud of white. It hushes the urban sound-scape, muting the clacking of footsteps to a soft shuffle. It makes the sharp edges less soft, and it keeps us indoors with our loved ones. It is a deceptively simple force that keeps our over-eager, overachieving selves at bay, if for just a few weeks longer. It causes us to slow down.

So while I can't say I prefer snow over rain, and there are certainly benefits to riding bicycles over "trudging," adapting to the snow has been a curious experiment in exploring limited pathways of mobility. And when I move to New York next year, I'm sure I'll find myself missing the soft edges. But in the meantime, hurry up and melt already.

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