Downtown View:Snow Fear in Boston

February 28, 2017
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By Karen Cord Taylor

Are we Bostonians pusillanimous, spineless milquetoasts?

It’s easy to conclude that we are, given our recent behavior over snowstorms. The weather forecasters announce ominously that a snowstorm is on the way. The newscasters lament snow in the same way they’d view a plague of locusts. Suburbanites rush to the grocery store to stock up. The Boston Public Library, of all places, closes. Maybe the librarians just wanted a day off.

Why all the frantic closures and messing around? Folks, it’s February. Snow falls in February, and it has been doing so since before the first Europeans landed on these shores. In fact, according to one of my favorite books, Snow in America by Mergen Bernard, Europeans admired early Americans who braved such weather, believing they emerged more likely to succeed, given their hardiness and resiliency.

Apparently we’ve lost that hardiness along with our appreciation of snow.

Snow is important. It fills our reservoirs and aquifers and gently hydrates spring plants. Last winter’s dearth of snow was one reason for last summer’s low water tables. Thank goodness for snow in my little courtyard. Without its protective warmth, the freeze-thaw cycle would shrivel up my boxwoods, which would have to be (expensively) replaced.

For downtown dwellers, a big snowfall should be fun, not worrisome. We have only a few feet of sidewalk to shovel, not a whole driveway. Mercifully, since the city cracked down, homeowners usually shovel, so the sidewalks are mostly clear for walking. Our grocery stores and shops stay open. The T keeps running. People driving into the city in cars stay away, which makes everything nicer.

If you have a fireplace, you can cuddle up, watch the snow fall and consider how quiet the city is when it is snowing. Sublime.

I was in Florida for a few days with friends during one of the recent snowstorms. I was sorry to be missing it. All Floridians could talk about, though, was our snowstorm. They were obsessed with snow. What was so boring about their lives that avoiding weather had become important?

But then we returned to Boston and found people cowering. Home of the Brave? Harrumph. (Don’t you just love that word, “harrumph?”)

We can give everyone a pass if it snows 30 inches in one day. I get that. And I understand some school closings. You don’t want 5-year-olds climbing through snow piles to get to a bus that might skid off the road. But intrepid high schoolers given a day off? Doesn’t make sense.

The library closing? Eamon Shelton, the library’s director of operations, said keeping the BPL open depends on how many employees can get there and how easily they can clear paths and entryways among other factors.

We should remain skeptical. The Boston Athenaeum typically solves snow by opening a couple of hours later. It’s easy to imagine that a fair number of readers and computer users would find the BPL a cosy place to spend a snowy afternoon. Downtown users can easily make it to their branch or the main library during any kind of weather.

Some Bostonians know how to handle snow. Consider those people who had a snowball fight on the Common. Think about the bars and restaurants that stay open because people love to get together during what seems like a hiatus in their normal lives. Give a cheer for the grocery stores and shops that never close. I’m betting people are especially grateful to the liquor stores that stay open so we don’t lack for anything. Thank goodness for our underground utility lines that mean that the greatest snowfalls never cut off our electricity. Shoveling out the car? You don’t need that car anyway if you live downtown. (During 2015’s snowy winter, someone’s car stayed in front of my building from January into April.)

One time in the 1970s during a snowy cold spell, several of us skied on the Charles River to Cambridge to have fondue at a Swiss restaurant that used to be on JFK street. I have a photo of a friend and her children on the river to prove it could be done. That’s the way winter should be enjoyed.

I propose a new outlook on winter. Bring it on. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Make use of it. Be proud of our resilience in the face of it. Brag about it.

We have it in us. On February 7, it was snowing slushily most of the day. But guess what? The Patriots paraded on their duck boats down Boylston Street, celebrating that remarkable win at Super Bowl LI. Thousands of people hopped on the commuter rail, took the Orange or Red Line, walked and even drove their cars in—snow or no snow, to see them. Just shows we can deal with snow easily when we’ve got the motivation. Now, BPL, see if you’re up to the challenge.

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