As the Northeast is blanketed in snow, and I check in with friends and family who live there, I am reminded of the upside of big weather – the great fun of living outside the daily norm that big weather often gifts to us. When I was growing up in Schenectady, NY, we often had snow storms and ice storms that shut everything down and knocked out the power. I remember sitting by the radio and listening to the school closings. What a thrill when they read the name of my school! An unexpected day of freedom.
The house that I lived in until I was 11 years old had many white birch trees in the yard. During ice storms, the birches would become coated and would bend over so that the top branches often touched the ground, like women stepping out of the shower with long wet hair and bending over to wring it out. Robert Frost wrote a famous poem about those bent over birches. (Here is the link to it if you like poetry.) If I recall, we lost a number of our birches to ice storms when they snapped from the weight. But I will always remember the graceful beauty of those bent birches, glittering, cased in ice.
Once we had a huge blizzard when my cousins were visiting us and their family couldn’t return to their home on Long Island because of the weather. It was the best thing we cousins could have hoped for. We spent days playing in the snow until we were soaked and freezing and then we’d go inside and drink hot cocoa and play board games until we warmed up and then we’d go back out again to build igloos and ride our sleds. We must have made our mothers crazy because they couldn’t use the dryer and we were soaking through every stitch of clothing we had from our expeditions into the winter wonderland outside. We slept rolled up in sleeping bags in the living room in front of the fireplace where our fathers had stoked up the fire for the night because the power had gone out. At one point my uncle and aunt packed up and piled my cousins into the car and attempted to go home, but the NY State Thruway was closed so they had to turn back. Imagine how delighted me and my brothers were to have our cousins returned to us for more fun and games. That storm gave me one of my very favorite childhood memories.
We often lost our power in winter rain or wind storms up at the Ranch during our years living out on the land. It snowed there very occasionally, which made our dirt road impassable. Also one of my favorite memories is one night during our first winter at the Ranch when it was pouring rain and the power had gone out. Ron was working that night and I was at home alone with the children. Sudi was an infant, Akili 4, and Yael 7. Yael, Akili, and I were in the midst of reading James and the Giant Peach. So I lit a candles and we wrapped up in blankets and piled onto my bed with baby Sudi kicking and gurgling happily beside us and I read chapter after chapter. That was the night that Akili made his famous comment about the caterpillar’s singing. I have never been known for being able to carry a tune. The caterpillar in that book sings a lot. So I would make up some sort of tune and attempt to sing the caterpillar’s words. After one such attempt that night, Akili commented, “That poor caterpillar can’t sing very well, can he Mom?”
Big weather gave us some of our most fun family moments at the Ranch. Once Ron cooked a pizza in the woodstove because the oven didn’t work when the power was out. It was an amazingly delicious smoky pizza. I remember many a night playing cards or board games with the children by lantern light. Housebound as a result of flash flooding along Highway 101 on one New Year’s Eve, Ron, Sudi, and I played Clue until 3AM. In the early years we had no backup generator so we had no water (we had a well that pumped using electricity) when the power went out. But after we got the generator, we would fire it up once a day for everyone to take a shower and check email whenever we lost our power.
I love the photos of the winter wonderland caused by the big Blizzard of 2013 (they call it Nemo); photos of children playing in the snow, patios covered up to the tip-top of the lawn chairs, snow piled up against the window, people snowshoeing and skiing. I love the stories about community fun during the big weather. I’m sure there will be lots of stories in the news about death and disaster, but I prefer to take a moment to celebrate the delights brought to us when Mother Nature forces us to pause and step outside the daily usual.
Silver birches along the road.