Katy Burns: Winter makes a comeback

Monitor columnist
Sunday, March 19, 2017

Well! A funny thing happened on the way to spring. That funny thing being a quite un-springlike load of about 16 inches of white, wet flakes blanketing our house along with everything else in the vicinity.

A whole lot of people looked at the forecast and thought, aha, one last chance to hop on our snowmobiles and cruise through the deep, dark woods. Or to haul the cross-country skis back up from the cellar or shed and plot a gliding tour of the back 40.

I myself decided to opt for one last crack at New England’s least heralded but perhaps most common winter sport – swarming the supermarket in advance of a storm. Or even just a fairly big snowfall. After all, we may have to go as long as 24 hours without access to a grocery store!

We have to stock up on the basic food groups. That primarily means milk, bread and eggs. In fact, early last Monday morning Hannaford employees were already making sure the bread shelves were filled to capacity. By nightfall, it’s likely they were bare.

But we northern New Englanders live by more than bread, eggs and milk. Carts in the checkout lines were also crammed with beer and wine, donuts and Doritos. And maybe a tub or two of guacamole.

I’m not sure when or how a corn chip flavored with maltodextrin, whey protein concentrate and disodium inosinate and guaranteed to turn any body part it touches bright reddish orange became an essential component of a snowstorm survival package, but somehow the unnatural snack finds its way into eight out of 10 grocery carts, according to a (strictly unscientific) survey.

One thing that’s common in November pre-storm shopping sprees is blessedly absent in spring, though: A snow shovel.

Snow shovels are essential purchases just before that first storm of the season. Boxes of them sit near supermarket checkout stands. I’ve yet to figure out why. Are our garages, sheds and barns really so cluttered that we can’t find last year’s snow shovel? Come early spring, do our neighbors get together for a secret smash-the-snow-shovel ceremony, sort of like an old mortgage-burning celebration?

Or do most of our citizens each May become convinced that global warming is accelerating so quickly they might as well send their snow shovels to the dump? If I could get a grant, I’d be happy to explore this phenomenon.

But by March supermarkets have stopped pushing snow shovels and ice scrapers.

Another marked difference between November and March storms is the mien of those thronging the store. Before the first big snow the crowd is tense, edgy, clearly aware that this is only the first of a series of storms certain to disrupt lives, just the opening day of a season of plowing, snow blowing and shoveling, and roof raking. Of boots and mittens, ugly hats and heavy scarves. And slush. Ugh.

But snow in mid-March? Hey, this is a glitch, an aberration, just a freak weather stumble as spring marches inexorably forward. Why shovel? Or rake the roof? It – yay! – will soon melt. Already, we know, cheerful little white flowers – naturally dubbed “snowdrops” – are in bloom under the fence along the front walk, now buried in snow, and teeny buds are just beginning to swell on the lilac bushes.

Topping off all the other good news, daylight saving time is here. We’re through, until late fall, with darkness at 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon. The serotonin levels of Granite Staters have already shot sky high.

The shoppers grabbing milk and bread last Monday were, overall, cheerful, secure in the knowledge that most – thanks to the caution of both public officials and private employers – would have the actual snowy day off, free to hunker down and, snug behind windows, watch the white stuff accumulate outside while bingeing on Cheers reruns on Netflix.

In our case, we spent a short part of the snow day watching the first episode of North Woods Law: New Hampshire, an unexpectedly engrossing new six-part reality series on Animal Planet focusing on our state’s Fish and Game wardens.

For eyes just a little tired of the barren if austerely beautiful winter landscape, the show displays a welcome burst of lush spring and summer greenery in a lot of places many of us don’t normally traverse. The conservation officers seem unfailingly polite and professional, and – without sensationalism – they don’t sugarcoat some of the harsher truths of the danger as well as beauty in nature.

There are worse things in this nation and world of turmoil and rancor than spending a warm afternoon feeding a toasty woodstove and watching a young bear tumble from a tree and scoot safely back into the woods where he belongs.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)