Notes on a Late-November Snow

This one snuck up on us. I was on my way out to the library yesterday when A. looked out the window and said “is that snow?” It was, but it was so small I could barely see it and it certainly wasn’t accumulating. In other words, it looked like the kind of “snow” we’d gotten used to in Baltimore. I drove to the library and checked out an armload of books, and by the time I was driving home the snow still wasn’t amounting to much. It wasn’t until we were about to turn in that we noticed that the snow had been steadily mounting up all evening, at least two or three inches’ worth on the deck and deck railing and on the heavy branches of the blue spruce out back, although it still didn’t seem to be sticking to any actual concrete.

When I got up this morning I noticed (1) a lot more snow on the deck and (2) that it was still snowing. I took the pictures I posted below not much later; as you easterners can see, we’re talking about an amount of snow that would cripple Baltimore for three or four days. Though last night we’d joked about whether A. would get a snow day, my first instinct this morning was that she had a decent shot. I fired up the laptop to check the university web site. But I began to remember that we live in Montana now as I searched and searched and not only couldn’t find a cancellation or closure notice, I couldn’t even find the place where such a notice would be, like “click here for weather closing information” or “campus will open on time today, Monday, November 19.” In other words, not only would A. not get a snow day today, the locals weren’t even considering it as a possibility. This was further underlined when A. called the Mountain Line to see if her bus would be running. The response was along the lines of “ummmmmm… why wouldn’t it be?”

There are all kinds of good reasons not to shut down here for a storm that would have easterners panicking and hoarding toilet paper: people are used to this kind of weather here, there are a lot more plowing companies ready to go to work, if you shut down for every couple-of-inch snowstorm in Montana you wouldn’t get a lot done, etc. We easterners are supposed to be pansies for shutting down so easily, which I wrote about almost a year ago. I came across another interesting viewpoint in a book my father gave me for my birthday this fall, a collection of the journalist Pete Dexter’s columns called Paper Trails. Dexter, who was raised in South Dakota, describes witnessing a car accident in Philadelphia, during a blizzard.

“A car was coming out of a gas station, another car wasn’t going to let it in. They came together at maybe two miles an hour, looking right at each other, and then they bumped fenders.”

He continues:

“Thirty inches of snow can fall on Vermillion, South Dakota, and people get around. Six inches stops everything in Philadelphia or New York [or Baltimore]. The reason isn’t that Vermillion has more snowplows or less cars. The reason is that in Vermillion, South Dakota, people give each other a little room.”

This certainly rings true, speaking as someone who still can’t get used to how willing the drivers here are to look for and stop for pedestrians, not to mention how you can actually just go 40 MPH in a 35 MPH zone and no one behind you seems to be about to explode with apoplexy. I had a friend in Baltimore who went off to Richmond for law school and developed a technique for spotting fellow Baltimoreans based on how angry they always seem, which made sense to me. Combined with their lack of practice driving in snow, those certainly aren’t people with whom you want to be sharing slippery roads.

Still, A. and I grew up on the east coast and snow feels like a holiday to us, so A. was sad to have to head out to work, and I’m not finding it any easier to get my head in the game here at home. Light flakes drifting down, mini-avalanches coming off of tree branches, birds making little trenches as they alight on the layer covering the deck railings. Compared to what I’m used to of late, this is a lot of snow, and it’s still mounting up.

Maybe I’ll just go check how much toilet paper we have.

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