Snow is part of my imagination. I grew up, and have lived, primarily in places that get snow storms. This means that when I visit a place in the spring, summer, or fall, I am always imagining how people navigate in the environment in the winter.
I lived for a short time in Louisiana and saw how people had house lots that were long and narrow—a reflection of the French long lot survey system. Houses were at the back ends of these lots with long driveways leading to the road. I immediately wondered—doesn’t this make it difficult to clear the snow in the winter? I also saw sugar cane grown in strips with fallow blocks in between. My mind quickly moved to interpreting this as a strategy for creating snow shelters. I had to stop and remind myself—Louisiana does not get snow storms…
Likewise, when I lived in New Zealand I kept looking at incredibly steep driveways and worry about the ice and snow in the winter. I had to get my anxiety under control, remembering that I was living in a temperate climate.
Snow has always been part of my life, or at least my winter life. I don’t remember much inconvenience related to snow when I was growing up. I only recall cancelled school—snow days—and sledding down the hill behind our house on our toboggan while launching a saucer off the back. Somebody else must have been dealing with the inconvenience.
The challenge of big snows began to impinge on my imagination when I had my first car and was living in an apartment with on-street parking only. After a huge storm, the city snow removal plan went into effect where they cleared and plowed north-south or east-west streets on alternative days. I had to first dig my car out on my north-south street, and then dig through the mountain of snow left by the plow as it went down the east-west street, in order to move my car around the corner and on to that street. Public frustration (and tickets) were directed to those who did not comply. You also could end up with a car even more deeply buried if the plow went around it.
Getting off-street parking at my next apartment was a huge step up. I had to dig out and drive to work. When I returned, the parking lot would have been plowed.
At some point in my life I moved up to new heights—I had a garage. Of course, it was a long and wide driveway with the garage door facing west. Huge drifts of snow would be up against the garage door, sometimes 4 feet deep, with other parts of the driveway swept clean by the wind.
When I moved to Michigan I had a list of non-negotiables for a house purchase, including a short driveway. I didn’t get a short driveway, but it was a narrow driveway that did not face west. In spite of my life experience, I still was a bit mystified that first fall when I saw four-foot stakes show up at the end of everyone’s driveway and city workers attaching six-foot high flags to fire hydrants. After a winter where the mound on either side of my driveway was piled six feet high I hired a plow service. That fall, stakes showed up at the end of my driveway.
When searching for a permanent place to live in Massachusetts, I found that off street parking seemed to be the measure of luxury. But I held out for a minimum of a single car garage. As I drove around old settlements like Salem and Boston, I kept driving to figure out where they would put the snow in the winter. The streets where narrow, there were no yards, and no garages. As attractive as gentile urban living was to me, my imagining snow kept me from pursuing that option.
This winter, with snow coming in feet rather than inches, I have found out the secret around snow in places like Boston and Salem. Snow goes to snow farms. As a geographer, I have to say that I am upset that this is the first time in my life that I have heard of snow farms. Even in graduate school, while taking meteorology and climatology courses I was not informed of this phenomenon. I was taught that snow formed in the atmosphere under certain conditions.
Now I find it is grown in New England.