by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
I am writing to you today from inside one of
nature’s bona fide wonders: a good old New England
nor’easter. I hadn’t planned to comment on this blizzard; I tend
to ignore them whenever possible. New Englanders are used to
them. But I was awakened this morning by the snow insistently
thumping my window, demanding my attention, insisting, lordly
in its sway that I gaze out and make my obeisance to awe and
And so I shall.
First, the facts.
What is snow anyway?
Millions of people, their lives intertwined with this
seasonal commodity which ebbs and flows, would,
when asked… hem and haw, embarrassed by their
ignorance of something so powerful, so regularly
omnipresent, so, well, obvious. "I’m not really sure,"
they’d say — myself among ‘em — "I just know it when
I see it."
The Farmer’s Almanac to the rescue.
My dictionary says snow is ice crystal flakes: water vapor in
the atmosphere that has frozen into ice crystals and falls
to the ground in the form of flakes. This is, well, adequate,
good enough; it’s better to seek out the experts at the
Farmer’s Almanac (published first by Benjamin Franklin
in 1732. ) Snow, somehow, seems more real in the country,
its sinews more apparent, its destructive power the more on
view and genuinely regarded, with picturesque Currier and
Ives panoramas at every glance. No wonder America loves
these images of its earliest and most enchanting self, first
published in 1813, when a view was verily a fine prospect
Here’s what the Farmer’s Almanac says,
"Snow is formed from water vapors in the cold clouds
that have condensed into ice crystals. Ice crystals fasten
onto a dust speck. One crystal attaches to another forming
a snowflake. Once the snowflake is heavy enough, it falls
from the cloud. A snowflake is either a single ice crystal or
many crystals.The size of a snowflake is determined by how
many ice crystals join together.The tops of clouds must be below
32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius in order for snowfall
to occur.Snow can fall from any layered cloud that is cold enough."
"Snow’s effect on the ground."
" Snow accumulated on the ground helps keep bulbs and plant roots
(beneath the ground) from freezing in frigid weather.As soft snowflakes
pile on top of one another, pockets of air are left between them. This air
helps protect seeds, bulbs and roots from freezing beneath the soil in
winter.In spring when the snow begins to melt, some snow soaks
into the earth to water the soil, while other melted snow replenishes
streams, lakes and rivers."
Now, that’s a definition to be proud of. And I bet you, like me,
hardly knew a whit of this. Still, it is good to know the brave little
crocuses already peeping shoots above the ground will not be
harmed. They are the vanguard of spring, and they cheer us every
time they ascend to the sun and their brief tenure as bits of
joy in the mud.
5:55 am Eastern
It is not quite six a.m. now and the hegemony of snow is absolute. Or
almost so. The snow plows are already at their work;
their promise of relief and liberty at hand. Their noise must be
fearsome for, snug and warm, I hear them as they go about
their work. They bear names like Ariens, Toro, Craftsman, Husqvarna,
Troy-Bilt, MTD Yard Machines, and Honda. You can tell as well as
I that many of these are foreign names, and so with every flake,
American money leaks to foreign shores.
The snow plows are manned by happy crews of determined
folk who relish their work. Soon, they will be found in taverns citywide
sharing brews and tales of the Big One which will lose nothing in
the telling. They are proud of the work which pulls them from snug beds
into the Big Machines whose power, growing now, will soon efface
that of snow itself. Commuters who come later, grumbling, will
complain about where the fruit of these machines has been left.
New England’s poets knew their snow
John Greenleaf Whittier (born 1807) wrote a best-seller in 1866 entitled
Snowbound: A Winter Idyl. Easy to understand, its simple imagery
and paean to nature do not satisfy our jaded tastes and so, sadly, this
idyllic pastoral goes unread today.
Sadder still is the fate of "The Cross of Snow" (1879) by my near neighbor on
Brattle Street, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His poem, gut wrenching,
is not so much about the snow itself as about the snow covering
the grave of his long-dead, fervently adored wife. I have been in the room she
died, where there is love and pain, producing reflections almost too poignant to
"In the long, sleepless watches of the night
,A gentle face–the face of one long dead–
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died,
and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died."
But this report must not end on such a note of
mourning, no matter how haunting and elegiac.
Thus we end instead with the sage of Concord,
Massachusetts, Ralph Waldo Emerson who in
"The Snow Storm" (published 1841) said this:
- "Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
- Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
- Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
- Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
- And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end.
- The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
- Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
- Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
- In a tumultuous privacy of Storm."
- I am now in that tumultuous privacy of Storm, where
- outside the elements contend, heavy, portentous, disruptive
- ephemeral, though they do not know it. Soon this will pass.
About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of
Worldprofit, Inc., www.worldprofit.com where
small and home-based businesses learn how to
profit online. Dr. Lant’s 18 best-selling business books are listed at