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Ralph Gardner Jr: A Perfect Storm

Lucy Gardner and Malcom St Clair stacking wood.
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Lucy Gardner and Malcom St Clair stacking wood.

One tries not to repeat oneself. And I did a commentary about snow and snowstorms less than a year ago. But the one that hit us last Sunday and continued into Monday and early Tuesday morning deserves congratulations. It was about as good as it gets. At least if you didn’t have to get anywhere.

My definition of a good snowstorm is one where you experience the full beauty and majesty of nature and the lights don’t go out.

That’s what happened in this case. At least in our neck of the woods. While the snowfall was intense – all told we probably got anywhere from twenty inches to two feet – it was never accompanied by blizzard winds.

There are three parts of a pleasant, cooperative, life-affirming storm.

The first is the anticipation and the rituals that attend it. The provisioning at the supermarket and the checking of weather forecasts and radar as the system approaches.

This year our preparations also included stacking lots of firewood. The timing was mostly coincidental since a large oak fell across our lawn during a windstorm in late October.

Last week our neighbor Rich Fuss helpfully sawed the tree into manageable pieces in exchange for some of the firewood and then lent us his wood splitter to further reduce the oak into logs for our fireplace and wood-burning stove.

A word about wood splitting, which I also covered in a commentary not all that long ago. If you love getting stuff for free, as I do, there’s a particular satisfaction that comes from harvesting stuff that grows on your property and using it to help heat your house; in addition to providing the beauty, excitement and sound effects of a roaring fire.

All while there’s a major winter storm brewing over your shoulder.

Four of us participated in gathering, splitting and stacking the wood – five if you include the gas-powered wood splitter, which came with a cool catcher and lift to hoist large, heavy logs onto the splitter.

But it was my son-in-law Malcolm who supervised the subsequent stacking. Malcolm has been reading up on the subject – apparently there’s a whole new genre of books dedicated to the proper care, conditioning and respect for wood – and he made sure that the three stacks that resulted over two days of labor weren’t just sturdy but also aesthetically pleasing.

Sadly, Malcolm and our daughter Lucy had to return to the city ahead of the storm. But at least they can be confident that they’ll benefit from their efforts for years to come.

Rich Fuss also gave Malcolm a chain-sawing lesson. So I figure we’ll have a healthy supply of warmth in perpetuity since we have lots of woods and trees falling over all the time.

Also, if Malcolm wants to build a log cabin on the property – preferably one that’s lovely and architecturally intriguing with lots of windows that I can use as a personal retreat – please be my guest.

But about that storm. Phase two started as the first flakes began to fall late Sunday morning and continued for the subsequent 36 hours or so. At occasional intervals I’d brave the tempest to shovel the path leading to our driveway and brush the snow off our car.

But it accumulated so quickly that by the time I finished the chore it was starting to accumulate again.

I slept especially well Sunday and Monday nights, and I’m not a good sleeper. My wife attributed my serenity to the exhaustion of shoveling.

There’s probably something to that. But I think it was more the grace a good storm bestows on a person.

It’s nature’s way of calling a time-out. Of gently mocking our plans, goals and ambitions, as well as our fears and insecurities, of informing us that there are forces greater than us operating in the Universe and that sanity, let alone happiness, may rest on acknowledging and even, on occasion, surrendering to them.

It was snowing too hard to go anywhere or do anything. And I was reminded of Ethan Frome, the novel by Edith Wharton, that includes one of the most romantically charged scenes in all of literature. And I’m not referring to the sledding accident at the end of the book.

In the novel Ethan’s sickly wife Zeena goes to town for the night leaving Ethan alone with his young cousin Mattie, to whom he’s powerfully attracted, and she to him. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure their private interlude occurred during a storm.

But what that chapter did nail perfectly was the way small gestures and subtle feelings have a way of gaining significance when winter forces us to cocoon ourselves indoors.

That’s what a good snowstorm does. It connects you to something elemental not only in nature but in yourself.

Unfortunately, snow may also be on the way out; on the way to becoming a beautiful anachronism. Because as the planet continues to heat up such storms will become increasingly rare.

The third stage of the storm occurs when it clears out and the sun returns as it did by Tuesday afternoon. There are few effects in nature as lovely as sun glinting off fresh snow. And there was lots of it.

It almost made you long for the next storm.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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