In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone’
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Christina Rossetti[1]

I’m expecting an epic dusting of Biblical proportions.

Anonymous[2]

[Today we have two quotes, and they’re both about snow. Both are worth your scrutiny, and Fred’s volunteered to write about them. But I warn you, watch out for something unusual! He’s beginning to sound a bit like a RINO, rather than a true conservative. What will people think?]

Last week was cold, and it had been that way for some time. Also there were lots of reports about bad weather coming from the south and west. Everybody expected snow, but the real question was, how much? Forecasts for Wednesday and Thursday ranged from 14 to 18 inches on the high side, down to 4 to 6 inches. Not so much if you live in Minnesota, but for DC, any snow is a big deal.

Some folks around here treat snow like a beast from Revelations, signifying the End Times. You know, as in “His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire…”[3] If you meet that one in the woods, apparently you should just fall down dead at its feet. But most of us are more rugged than that. Instead we prepare for the bad stuff, obsess about it, pore over the hourly weather reports and wonder what the Government will do.

From time to time the DC metropolitan area does get a lot of snow. There were big snowfalls, for example, in 1995-1996[4], 2002-2003[5], and 2009-2010.[6] However, that’s not the normal rule. Usually it’s a long time between deluges, and what we get instead is a lot of false alarms. To many, DC weather-persons and news readers seem to emulate the legendary economist who forecasted “12 of the last 2 recessions,” then missed the big one in 2008.

Probably the author of today’s anonymous quote lives [or lived] in the D.C. area, understands this, and was skeptical about some of the more extreme forecasts. Who can blame him [or her]? But things were different this time around. We actually did get a fair amount[7], and it’s still cold, so it’s sticking with us. Of course, the forecasts were somewhat vague, in that they set out a range for a very large area. DC got a lot less snow (8 to 8.5 inches)[8] than the outer regions. I live west of DC and, on Thursday morning, walked out onto a deck with 21 inches of the white stuff.

Now, there are people who look on snow as a kind of blessing. J.B. Priestly, for example, said “The first fall of snow is not only an event, but it is a magical event.  You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up to find yourself in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?”[9] I’m sorry; I just don’t see it that way. To me the white stuff is mostly a waste management problem.

Do you have any idea how much a cubic foot of snow weighs? Suppose you have a back deck that’s basically 20’ by 20’ and a driveway that’s 40’ by 50’. That’s a total of 2400 square feet that need to be cleared, plus sidewalks. If there’s 18 inches of the white stuff, that’s 1.5 feet; multiply that by 2400, and you come up with 3600 cubic feet of snow to be moved. I don’t care how you do it; that’s a lot of weight and quite a job.

I’m not saying you should feel sorry for me. I have helpful neighbors and a home to go to when I’m not shoveling. Instead, we really ought to be thinking about the folks who don’t have a warm place to huddle in the middle of Christina Rossetti’s bleak mid-winter. They can’t warm themselves by thinking about a fire [10] and they can’t make food simply by imagining it. You know who I’m talking about. The guys who are between jobs and living in their cars; the mothers who have left home for one reason or another and are  living in shelters; the veterans, addicts and others down on their luck and living on the streets; and the homeowners or renters who can’t afford to heat their houses.  If the media are going to cover snow, they really ought to talk more about winter in general and the people who are most affected by it.

Of course, one thing nice about winter and snow is that eventually they both go away. Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis Arboribusque comae.[11] In this snow acts a lot like money in Hollywood. “Hollywood money isn’t money. It’s congealed snow, melts in your hand, and there you are.”[12] Come to think of it, that pretty much describes any money I get, as well. But unlike money, winter and snow also return. Money, not so often.

Finally, snow is democratic, while money is not. When snow hits your area, it falls on everybody, the living and the dead.[13] Money falls selectively, generally to people who already have it. Nevertheless money and snow are similar as well, in that they only affect the living.  The living with money get to spend it, and only the living move snow. The dead don’t do either. So who’s better off? I guess someday we’ll all find out.

[Good Heavens! Fred, that’s really depressing, although true. You need to cheer up. Take two aspirin, go out and get some sun, before the clouds come back. I’ll handle the complaints.

For the rest of you, don’t worry! I’ll make sure Fred takes his medication before he goes home. [14]]


[1]  See ODQ at Christina Rossetti, p. 655, n.9.

[2] I heard this on NPR last week, probably on the 11th. One of the talking heads over there was quoting an email she had received from an anonymous source.

[3] Revelations Ch. 1, v. 14 (King James, 1611)

[4] This information is available from NOAA, at http://www.erh.noaa.gov/lwx/climate/dca/dcasnow.txt  A total of 46 inches fell in the winter of 1995-1996.

[5] A total of 40.4 inches fell in the winter of 2002-2003. See note 4 for website address.

[6] A total of 56.1 inches fell in the winter of 2009-2010.  See note 4 for website address.

[7] See Heavy, Guariglia, February 13 Snowfall Totals for Maryland Towns & Washington, DC (February 13, 2014) at  http://www.heavy.com/news/2014/02/february-13-snowfall-totals-maryland-washington-dc/

[8] See note 7.

[9] See ODQ at J.B. Priestley, p. 610, n. 18.

[10] See Shakespeare, Richard II (1595), act 2, scene 1, line 11: “O! Who can hold a fire in his hand, [b]y thinking on the frosty Caucasus? Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite, [b]y bare imagination of a feast? Or wallow naked in December snow, [b]y thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?”

[11] This is from Horace, the Roman poet. It translates as “The snows have fled, now grass returns to the fields and leaves to the trees.” See ODQ at Horace, p. 402, n. 12.

[12] See ODQ at Dorothy Parker, p. 586, n. 9.

[13] See ODQ at James Joyce, p. 436, n. 21: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

[14] Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595-6) act 5, scene 1, line 58: “Merry and tragical! Tedious and brief! That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow!”

Advertisements