Young: I’ve looked at snow from both sides now
February 5, 2014
At one time in my life I had no use for it. Hated it.
I hated what snow did to the morning newspaper, how it crimped my driveway basketball dominance, how it curbed mobility in all forms except on skis.
Love it. Can't get enough of it. Snow, snow, snow. The last few weeks it has done just that where I live — 8 inches of it outside my window, with more on the way.
Snow has been a discussion piece over the last three weeks, with 2 inches of it paralyzing Atlanta, and traces of it as far as the Texas Gulf Coast.
Having lived in Texas for many years, I understand how it could dominate discourse. In Central Texas, the sighting of a single snowflake can cause citizens to sweep every edible item off of every shelf in town, and hunker down for a week of paralysis that generally doesn't come.
"Saturday Night Live" spoofed Dixie's scare affair with snow via a southern gentleman who said he panicked at the sight of white — "Yankee sludge," he called it — and hurried to the "safest place I could think of: the interstate."
Where I live now, snow has to be in feet, not inches, to have a "snow day." Indeed, I grew up in Denver, and never had a snow day — not one. The only school day canceled in all those years was because of cold — 25 below.
So why would I have grown to hate snow? It relates to a newspaper career which began in a remote southern Colorado town: Alamosa. Ensconced in an arid alpine valley, it is one of the coldest places in the country, often victim to vicious cold-air inversions that happen after a healthy snowfall.
Snow didn't just mean unpleasantry for my extremities; it meant that I was stranded in that valley, as one had to traverse a snow-packed mountain pass to get back home to Denver. A non-skier, I had no use for snow.
But things have changed. Back then, my life was defined by highways and bylines. Now, settled and far from restless, life is more closely defined by life.
Snow has a lot to do with that.
Last year, the Rockies were in the grip of a drought that had seen forest fires from Idaho to New Mexico. Throughout the winter, the foothills were brown, not white. Fire season stretched into November.
This year the white has returned, meaning sustenance for watersheds and aquifers throughout the West and Southwest.
Have no doubt from where most of the Southwest's water comes: Not from too-rare rain storms. Not from plastic bottles. It comes from the Rockies, ultimately to refresh farm fields and stock tanks.
The reasons that made me hate snow apply today. Snow is work — scraping, shoveling, shivering. But now I shovel with relish. I fully appreciate how snow fits into life's cycle.
For those downstream of all this labor: We do it for you.
All joking aside: Climate change has altered nature's balance. Thirty years ago in Central Texas one could expect two months of real winter — January and February. Then, about 15 years ago, it was as if winter stopped coming. We started to see buds on trees in January.
A case of the "milds" has beset other former haunts. I would not feel so isolated these days in the remote mountain town of my post-college days, because at times over the last 20 years the mountain passes haven't been so routinely icy, the snowpack so robust. Too often, even in the dead of winter, the temperatures have been insanely moderate.
So, snow, please. Strand us. Make everything white and still. Bring life to hills and plains that need it.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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