There’s a lot to love about a good old-fashioned blizzard.
But first, let me dispense with the caveats: There’s a lot to love, if you don’t have to travel by car or plane, you have a safe, secure home with emergency provisions for water, heat, light, food, and means of communicating with the rest of the world in case of a power outage.
We’re in the final hours of the appropriately named storm, Hercules, which dropped more than a foot of snow in a 24-hour period, during which the temperature didn’t rise much above zero, and often dipped way below. We’d half-filled the bathtub, readied the rechargeable flashlights, positioned the kerosene lamps, brought in the shovels, and filled the wood boxes.
So now, a few blizzard joys:
Around my place, a blizzard demands exercise (aka physical labor), and a lot of it. We all need exercise for physical and psychological well-being. Why not do it simultaneously with productive work?
First, there’s hauling armloads of firewood in and buckets of ashes out from the two stoves that keep us warm and cook our food.
Then there’s the shoveling and roof-raking. We hire a guy to plow the driveway, but we have a lot of hand-shoveling to clear pathways to and from the chicken coop, the woodshed, and the tool shed/garage. We have to rake the greenhouse roof, then shovel around the base to prevent the snow that slides off our pitched roof from building up above the greenhouse glazing and blocking the sun. During a big snowstorm, we typically gear up to shovel every couple of hours to keep from having to handle the entire load when the storm is over.
Then there’s the snowshoeing, which has been called floating on snow and walking on water. Breaking trail and trekking uphill to the compost pile carrying a 5-gallon bucket of kitchen scraps counts as one short bout of hard work. But snowshoeing lets you play outside during and after a blizzard, when walking or running aren’t possible. An hour of it can burn more than 1000 calories (especially breaking trail while going uphill in deep, fluffy powder). Add trekking poles to the jaunt, and you have full-body muscle work at its finest. Best of all for me: it’s so exhilarating, it never really feels like “exercise.”
Silence & Sound
Blizzard conditions keep most people off the roads and muffle the sounds of vehicles that do pass by. Deep snow keeps the sounds of the industrial world at a distance. When I walk around outside, the natural world feels deeper, more peaceful.
And yet, blizzards compose their own orchestral works from the falls and crescendos of wind, the creaks and groans of frozen trees, the crash and crackle of ice formations on trees and buildings. In the white world on snowshoes, my own sounds embrace me: the crunch, thud and crackle of my shoes and poles, my heavy breathing.
Ascending the hill behind my house or tromping through the adjacent woods in fresh snow after a blizzard, I discover all sorts of mammal tracks. Over the years, I’ve seen the tracks of rodents (squirrels, mice, rats, and porcupines) to hares, weasels, fishers, white-tailed deer, coyotes, foxes, bears, turkeys, and moose. It’s thrilling to share these landscapes with so many fellow creatures, most of which I rarely see during the winter.
Fertilizer “Poor man’s fertilizer”? Not really. (Snow may deliver a little nitrogen and not much else that’s beneficial to the garden beds, although it does efficiently scavenge and concentrate environmental pollutants. Not much joy in that fact.)
But deep snow does provide insulating cover for many susceptible woody plants. Below-zero temperatures kill many overwintering insect pests (though probably not disease-causing ticks). And of course, the spring snowmelt recharges our underground aquifers and provides essential moisture for our crops.
Indoor Many blizzards bring power outages, which can last hours or even days. We’re always fairly well-prepared: woodboxes filled, bathtub half-filled with water for toilet flushing, stockpots filled with drinking water, plenty of food (including canned and dried emergency rations), kerosene lamps and battery-powered flashlights at the ready.
An outage forces us to go dark. It not only shuts off the lights and the water pump, but keeps us from watching TV and doing all the things we do on electronic media.
During the last outage, we played Bananagrams for several hours by the light of three kerosene lamps, until our brains tired of the exertion of making words. It was fun, and it kept our minds occupied with something other than anxiety.
Carl Sandburg wrote, Let a joy keep you. I think he’d have embraced the idea of blizzard joy.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.