Weathering Winter in Vermont
By Geoffrey Norman
the storms are coming, the storms are coming
Sometime around the end of October, I find myself looking up at the mountaintops, inspecting them for the season’s first dusting of snow. I know, of course, that once there is snow up there, it will soon be falling down here in the valley. And that it will be time for the winter rituals of plowing and shoveling to begin.
After years of living here, I remain in awe of Vermonters’ ability to deal with snow. I know that we don’t really have a choice but still if you haven’t spent time in places where a blizzard is viewed as only slightly less disruptive than an invasion of Russian paratroopers, then you don’t really appreciate this.
An anecdote, here, to help make this point:
I had some business in Washington a few years back. Flew down planning to spend a couple of nights with my brother who lived in the Virginia suburbs. When the plane landed, a light snow had begun to fall but it was accumulating fast enough that no cabs were running. So I called my brother who said that the roads were too dangerous for him to come pick me up. Better get a room somewhere near the airport, he said, and we’ll try to get you tomorrow.
He didn’t sound especially hopeful.
I got the last room at the airport HoJo (if memory serves) and settled in …
For what turned out to be four days. By the time I got out of that motel, the kitchen had run out of food and the candy bar machines were empty. I had started thinking of that HoJo as the Donner Pass.
Easy, of course, to blame Washington for that. Which everyone did. But I had been through similar situations in New York and Chicago (Chicago!) when I lived in those cities. And growing up in the South, I had been sent home from school during a “storm” that never dropped enough snow to cover the grass in people’s lawns. This, in a part of the world, where people would refuse to evacuate their homes ahead of a Cat 3 hurricane.
Years back, in anticipation of my first Vermont blizzard, I went into town and loaded up on batteries and canned goods and bottled water. Brought in enough firewood to fuel a homecoming bonfire. Made sure both vehicles were filled up.
The storm hit around midnight and by morning, there was snow up to the first floor windows. That afternoon, I was in town, buying the papers. We never even lost power.
And the part that really struck me was how handily the people in my new home town dealt with what would have been a natural disaster in other places. I heard the town plows when it was still dark outside and I was trying not to open my eyes. And by the time I was making coffee, the private operators were out. We were renting back then, and the realtor we dealt with had set us up with someone to plow the drive.
He arrived before we’d started breakfast and I watched with something like awe. The way you watch anyone who is really good at his work. Who does it with something like artistry.
He was quick, efficient, and precise. It didn’t take him ten minutes to manicure that driveway. I went outside to thank him but he didn’t have time for that sort of thing. Other driveways lay ahead and the day was getting on. He did give me a wave and a nod, though. And the bill was in the mailbox a couple of days later. I was astonished by its size. It was almost as though the man was doing it for fun.
Since then, there have been other people who plowed for me and while I have never learned myself, I did get one of those little two-cycle snowblowers and got pretty good with it. I carve paths through the snow-covered back meadow to give my dog somewhere to run. By March, there are so many trenches in the snow, the place looks like the 1917 Western Front.
I won’t say I look forward to the blizzards of winter. But I do anticipate them with a certain nonchalance and when I see that first dusting of snow at the top of Mother Myrick, I think, “Hey, go ahead. Bring it on. This is Vermont.”