Stranger in a familiar land...

A snowstorm brings out all sorts of interesting behavior in people. Myself…I love ‘em. (The storms that is.)  And I am fully aware that part of my love of snow storms comes from not having to drive in them and not being responsible for shoveling any of the stuff when it starts to pile up. To me, a blizzard is kind of fun (for the most part and notwithstanding that I am aware that they can cause real problems for people).

Recently we experienced a big storm here in Boston. This big blizzard fell into the top 10 (and perhaps even the top 5) biggest storms in Massachusetts. (I refuse to refer to it by the name the Weather Channel conferred on it, with all due respect to that company, which I generally like and appreciate. But I’ll stick to using only official storm names bestowed by the World Meteorological Organization. And they don’t name winter storms. ‘Nuff said.)

The thing I like about a big storm is that it changes the landscape. It changes the city I live in and for a day or two or maybe more, it is like I’ve traveled far away to a land I don’t know and can’t navigate easily.

The light of daybreak and eventide is softer, the light of midday dazzling and twinkling, the light of the witching hour ethereal. Trees and fences and light posts transmogrify into snow cones or modernist sculptures.

But the thing that really changes the city, at the gut level for someone who lives here, is the piles and piles and piles of snow. Paths are carved, or not carved as some see fit, along the sidewalks and through the parks. The edges of the cleared walkways meander, showing off the skill, fatigue level, or equipment budget of the landowner at that stretch of walk.

In the early hours after a storm, there are many places that require one to walk in the street–an act that feels at once seditious and liberating. And a little frightening when the few cars that dare to make their way along the same piece of road.

No longer can you walk a straight line from A to B. You must walk the path that was carved for you by an unknown worker–in some case an employee, you can tell; in others merely a good Samaritan with the goal to help fellow citizens. And you must share a path that is sometimes just a foot wide, with nothing but slushy, impassable borders on either side. No longer can you walk the speed you wish to walk, when the ice forms on the exposed and wet walk. Or when a crowd (and now just two people sharing the path is a crowd) is ahead of you.

No longer can you cross a street mid-block. Or even wait to cross the street in your favorite spot on the corner, as now there may be someone blocking your way. Or pedestrians approaching from the opposite side, who need to get out of the street and make their way along the path before you can approach. No longer do you remember where the street ends and the sidewalk begins, when you think you’ve stepped onto the curb (or off of it) but you are wrong. Or when previously known obstacles are hidden by layers of ice crystals.

Yes…I wax philosophical about piles and piles of snow that cause others frustration and fury. The thing is, I really like that a snowstorm allows me to see my home with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. And I readily admit that my sentiment would likely be slightly reshaped, if not utterly destroyed, if the snow was on the ground for the entire season.

For then, it would be familiar. And not a passport to a strange new city that looks a little bit like one I used to live in.

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