Thursday, February 14, 2013


We are told that last Friday evening’s blizzard, known as Nemo, was a once-in-a-century event. Well, yes, but notice how many of these we seem to be getting nowadays. I have never experienced anything remotely like it. Here in New Haven, a fraction more than thirty-four inches of snow fell in twenty-four hours, but neighboring Hamden got more than forty. Certainly the snow that drifted along the front of my house in the Westville neighborhood was much deeper than three feet, more like six. It is not difficult to describe the fundamental difference between an ordinary snow storm and a blizzard. Storm has always struck me as a misnomer. When it merely snows there is a delicious quiet, a softness, an atmosphere almost of calm not unlike the effect of a blanket—provided you are safely tucked up in bed, or sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book. A blizzard, by contrast, has teeth, fangs, claws. The snow starts to behave like grit against doors and window-panes. It penetrates nooks and crannies. It scrapes and mauls. There is a howl in the wind, and a sinister air of real danger. Walking in a snow storm can be pleasant, if at times hard work. Trudging through a blizzard is hazardous. You cannot see. Your footing is at best uncertain. The cold is especially severe. You must seek shelter. Nothing better accounts for the practical purpose and life-saving rationale of the covered bridges of New England than a fully-fledged blizzard. On Saturday morning the impact of Nemo was almost overwhelming in its scale. Dozens of snow plows, emergency vehicles and cop cars lay abandoned in city streets like so many woolly mammoths. The streets were impassable, even on foot. Plucky citizens began to shovel, but as the city’s monster digging equipment began to carve single-lane canyons through the middle of the main arteries their efforts were largely annulled or even reversed because of the immense walls of snow thrown up on either side. On Monday it began to rain and, the drains being blocked with snow, the whole concoction began to settle into deep, frigid puddles, soon to become sullen floes of ice, exceedingly unhelpful. Still the city chugged ahead. The Governor temporarily lifted a ban on dumping snow into Long Island Sound because there really was nowhere else to put it. Now, nearly a week later, a small army of diggers, earth moving equipment and dump trucks are still loading up with immense quantities of snow, gradually clearing the streets and parking lots. The university was closed for classes on Monday and Tuesday, something that through 312 years is almost unheard-of. I must say that the citizens of New Haven exhibited extraordinary patience, forbearance, generosity, and good cheer amid the most trying circumstances. Frustrating though it is to be holed up for days on end, and to experience the onset of cabin fever, most people were philosophical—merely breathing silent prayers lest the snow and ice on the roof formed a destructive ice dam, or worse. The excellent Tony Maratea managed to carve me out a portion of my drive in which to park, and also a little path to the back door, but I have no idea how on earth he will clear the rest of it. Forget the snow-blower, this requires at least a Bobcat. In the meantime, we continue to install our exhibition, and have really only lost two working days as a consequence of the blizzard. Only two weeks to go, but I am sure we will get the job done.

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