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All about Snow
Washington - February 2010

Azizul Jalil

The offices of the world's sole superpower, the US Federal Government was closed in Washington D.C. for a few days early February. It was caused by a snowstorm followed, with a day's interval, by a furious snow blizzard. Was Kremlin laughing? Probably so, Russians are exposed to more hazardous blizzards and snowstorms.

Over here, it was no laughing matter. Some of us bore the brunt of nature's merciless and continuous dumping of snow for two days at Montgomery County, Maryland. Home bound with the so called cabin fever, nervous about medical emergencies and roofs collapsing, worried about children going to school against all odds and without power and therefore, lighting, heating and cooking. It was quite serious and potentially life threatening.

The tragic part of this snowstorm was the death of a father and son in Virginia, who left their car to assist another driver stuck in snow on the road. They were hit by a snowplow clearing the roads. Here was a supreme example of coming to the assistance of others, knowingly taking grave risks and paying the ultimate price with their lives - their sacrifice will be remembered forever. There are stories of neighbours helping neighbours, clearing snow from their driveways and sharing their groceries. We know people giving shelter to friends who lost power during these days of below freezing temperatures. There were many other examples of people’s humanity to fellow people.

I got help from friends living opposite our house, both doctors, who seeing an asthmatic, heart patient and his wife clearing snow from the driveway one afternoon rushed with their shovels. We and other senior citizens very often employ workmen to shovel our snow at this time they appear out of nowhere in search of work and good bucks. Younger people clear the driveways themselves to get some exercise. People of all ages, suffering from claustrophobia, put on their snow boots and heavy coats and walk a mile or two for fresh air and a cup of their favourite Starbuck's coffee. Children need work out too and enjoy going out despite the cold and a foot or two of snow on the sidewalks. Parents walking through the side of the main streets, called the 'emergency routes', which are cleared first, carefully guide them.

In Washington area, the total snowfall this winter season amounted to 54.9 inches, half an inch above the highest recorded snowfall from the 1898-1899 season. After the repeated experience of 20 or more inches of the white stuff in the last seven days, next Monday's forecasted threat may be a nuisance but not alarming. People rush to the groceries and hardware stores to stock up on essentials particularly eggs, milk, bread and water bottles and of course shovels and ice-melters. Many stores have run out of supplies and due to the impassable conditions of the roads for the last few days, replenishment is difficult.

The snow piled up every where - on the trees, bushes, yards, decks, the roofs; any place under the sun is a truly splendid spectacle, a glorious landscape. When the sun shines, it is magnified and reflects gloriously and powerfully, often straining the eyes. Stalactites (Icicles) have formed hanging from the gutters - long or short, each with a unique shape. They glitter like crystals in the sun and often drip water as it gets a bit warmer - an unforgettable vision. Everything seems so pure and clean that one would surely miss the spectacle when the snow gradually melts away. I often get the impression that there are huge piles of cotton lying everywhere. Perhaps a white desert with dunes of many sizes cropping up in the vista - a scene I had seen in Somalia in 1972. Only that the dunes here are formed by wind blowing on snow, not sand.

This time it shall take a week or more of good weather for all the snow to go away. There is a danger of flooding at places and hazards on the road. Since snow in the trees turn into ice as the evening and night temperatures dip into teens, limbs can break and fall on roofs and power and telephone lines. The driveways in the houses look like tunnels with white snow walls through which you navigate cars slowly and nimbly if you do not want the car to get scraped and bruised by the hard surface of the icy snow. With all the beauty and shine of the accumulated snow, we tend to overlook the ugly side. When the milky white snow piles begin to melt on the roadsides, there is mud and slush everywhere, including the cars. The white snow becomes black and the cars are all covered with salt marks and chemicals thrown on the roads a thoroughly ugly sight indeed.

I looked out of my office room window last week and strangely could not get a glimpse of our neighbour's house, easily visible during normal times. It has been completely shut off from view - a 22 inches high snow wall has formed naturally on the rails of our deck. Then after two days one afternoon in the bright sun, but temperatures still freezing, the snow walls collapsed and fell on the deck or the yard. I looked at my backyard and saw one tall spruce tree comfortably leaning on the next tree, being bent with snow. Today, even after the 10 inches of further snow in the second round, the big tree has managed to stand straight. Two other smaller Spruces are so bent with the weight of all the snow on their thin leafy limbs that they are kissing the snow on the ground. They have been confined to this humble position for the last seven days since the first round of snow. I am hoping they would be able to get up next week when we expect the snow to melt.

Some of us who are retired do not have to worry about not attending office and feeling guilty the whole day. Our children are concerned each evening how they will make it to the office next morning by 9am. They are checking on weather forecasts, Metro Rail and bus schedules, and county plans for snow plowing, sanding and salting of the roads. Parents try to be helpful but they are snow bound too. Grown up children are checking on elderly parents many times a day, often from a distance of hundreds of miles. In some cases, they are evacuating their parents and relations and bringing them to their own houses. With no newspapers and nothing much to do except reading, listening to Tagore songs, Ghazals and off course constantly watching the Weather Channel, we are calling friends and checking about their welfare and encouraging each other. We say with genuine concern- “nirapode o bhalo thakben”. At these times fellow feeling is accentuated and friendly bonds are further cemented.

We miss visiting and playing with our grandchildren. Our two-year-old granddaughter calls on us regularly uttering in Bangla as well as in English all the sweet things a grandparent wants to hear. But that never seems to be enough. Because of the inclement weather, our two grandsons at Atlanta could not come to visit us two weekends in a row. So we are going to Atlanta to meet them over the long Presidents' Day weekend - as the saying goes - 'If the mountain does not come -- etc.” And that is how life goes on! Hopefully, the flights would soon resume normal operations after the total disruption of last week.


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