Snow days bring reflection — and a little joy — during grumpy days of pandemic
For those of us with a love/hate relationship with snow, this month’s near-record snowfall that blanketed the Chicago area seemed special.
It can be magic, transformative, dangerous and dreadful.
This wet, white shapeshifter falling in pillows across Chicago this month was delivered silently and softly, adding a new room to the city’s already isolated house of coronavirus.
Snow’s footprint in my life has been a big one; an occupying force staying well beyond welcome in the states of my youth: North Dakota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The Dakota wind was so cold and strong, it seemed to blow snowflakes across the prairie for miles before landing. The U.P. winter drifts were high and deep and beyond the patience of length.
But Chicago’s weather has a kick of its own accompanied by an old saying:
“If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.”
Consider the fact two days BEFORE the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1967 — when a record-breaking 23 inches of snow fell in a single January day — the temperature was 65 degrees!
This legendary blizzard stranded thousands; killed 26 people; littered Chicago streets with 50,000 abandoned cars and CTA buses; and caused students to overnight in gyms and libraries.
As a relative newcomer to Chicago at the time, the ability to walk on 10-foot snow drifts suffocating cars parked in front of our Sandburg Village apartment was extraordinary.
BUT in Chicago, snowfalls can also be windfalls!
It can even give birth to political careers and bring down a political empire.
Jane Byrne, the city’s historic first female mayor, was elected largely as a result of two major snowfalls dumping 35 paralyzing inches in February 1979. It shoveled Mayor Michael Bilandic out of office due to disastrous blizzard bungling.
The snow also gifted Byrne the classic Chicago version of payback time. She had initiated her mayoral campaign after Bilandic fired her from her City Hall job.
The city’s love/hate relationship with snow really depends on who you are and where you live.
But this month’s soft pillows of snow — much of which have started to melt in this late-February warmup — seemed special. Or as my friend Carol Carroll would say, “embrace the snow as a white blanket before it becomes a muddy, messy crazy quilt.”
So despite the impassable sidewalk to my front porch for a week, I headed to the back porch to give nature a little help.
It did not require a mask; a long car wait for a COVID-19 test; a six-foot distance from humanity; or a sterile hand wipe or counter swab.
All that was required was a pair of boots with cleats; good gloves; a stockpile of nuts for squirrels; and bird feeders filled with safflower, sunflower and nyjer seed; and a window perch to watch a frantic forage for food in the midst of strong wind and snowdrift.
And it was transformative.
Even the loud crack and plunge of a presumptively dangerous 20-foot-long branch cascading off a massive fir tree in my front yard was chill.
No worry. I reckoned it was now just the branch of a dying tree covered in a sarcophagus of snowflakes; a lucky escapee from a buzzsaw in the spring.
And what about the icicles the size of Alaska hanging from my gutters?
What was happening to me? The grump was gone.
All was well.
Feeders were drawing extraordinary birdsong.
A few squirrels got monikers.
And gone was the urge to chase the Cooper’s Hawk from his breakfast room in my backyard while plucking and devouring a sparrow on the rose arbor.
COVID-19 cleaning . . .
A sign of the times?
And is spring really around the corner?
Chicago businessman Neal Zucker, the owner of the Corporate Cleaning Services Inc. — a major window-washing company — just dispatched a note to his customers.
It stated: “All EMPLOYEES FOLLOW ALL CURRENT CDC (Centers for Disease Control) GUIDELINES.”
There ya go.
Sneedlings . . .
Saturday birthdays: Josh Groban, 40; Camila Coelho, 33; and Kate Mara, 38. . . . Sunday birthdays: Jason Aldean, 44; Kelly Bishop, 77; Tasha Smith, 50 and belated happy birthdays to Ted Tetzlaff and Elle Behrens.