Buffy looks pretty small there, doesn't she? Contrary to what Seinfeld teaches us, shrinkage is not always a bad thing. In the last few days, the snowbanks have finally begun to melt, and the insane winter of 2015 has begun to loosen its grip on our streets and our psyches, our lives. "Good riddance" barely begins to scratch the surface of our feelings, and it will be a while before the damage, literal and otherwise, is fully erased. I guess one reason I'm writing this is to try to put a frame around how bad it was, for those who weren't here or for the digital scrapbook. Slipping and sliding around neighbor Brian's first fire pit of the year on Saturday night, I realized we were finally going to have to come up with a new topic of conversation. There is, weirdly, a sense of anticlimax. Stockholm Syndrome for the season that held us hostage? We New Englanders love our dramas. We're prone to the sense that the fates are picking on us in particular, and the last time we grumped this much about it was before 2004, back when the Red Sox and we were cursed.
Here in Newburyport, we've felt even more singled out. Every weather forecast from late January through February seemed to put us in the ironically named "jackpot." We broke records for snowfall before Boston, with something like 110". They had the worst of it on Plum Island, which looks deceptively bucolic from my bed this morning, a pretty line of lights a couple of miles away on the eastern horizon. This article details the islanders' nightmare, often cut off from the mainland, their water and sewer system frozen, hungry coyotes roaming the streets. But it hasn't been a picnic on Boardman Street either. In fact, it was sometimes dangerous.
The endless shoveling, over and over and over. (Thanks again, Mike and Brian, for being so generous with your labor and your snowblowers. The storm's one upside has been the way most people pitched it to help those who needed it.) The shoveling-induced aches, pains and hospital visits. The parking ban that lasted, with minimal interruptions, for more than a month, resulting in endless jockeying and disruption of plans. The sheer mass of snowbanks that piled higher and higher, turning our existence into a sort of trench warfare, like a wintry version of Paths of Glory. (Kids, look out for plows when you're making that snow fort.) Mail delivery canceled, trash and recycling going uncollected.The treacherous travel, by car or by foot, turning the simplest errand into an odyssey. Menacing icicles hanging overhead and ice dams sending meltwater leaking into houses. (Neighbor Tom hanging out our bedroom window again and again to make war on his eaves.) And scariest, we all have those modern furnaces with the low-to-the-ground exhaust pipes. Despite everyone's best efforts, for two different neighbors blocked chimneys resulted in pre-dawn carbon-monoxide emergencies on Arctic-cold mornings. And that was just on our block.
That picture of Buffy up top was taken in the Newburyport snow farm on the south bank of the Merrimack River, in Cashman Park at the foot of our street. On and off for weeks, our snowbank-narrowed, quiet little street was a route for convoys of huge dumptrucks heaped with snow from elsewhere in town and headed to the park. On our street, the mounds were so high, backyard fences no longer contained our neighbors' dogs. Roe thought one of them delivered the dead crab she found Buffy chewing on in our yard one day, perhaps lifted from their trash, but no one ate crab that week. Someone suggested it had been dropped by a seagull, a omen, a plague sign.
How thoroughly the snow and cold infiltrated and disrupted our daily existence. It's not a tornado or a Hurricane Katrina, of course. But it has also had economic effects, disproportionately hitting workers, as detailed well in this article. The Blizzard of '78 became a legend because of primitive meteorology that enabled its sneak attack, and conditions that created terrible flooding and wave damage along the coast. The winter of 2015 - with four tent-pole storms each dropping feet of snow - has the MBTA as its special sidekick, its accomplice. The transportation system's near-total failure made everything so much worse for so many people.
I started a new job in February, in Boston, and from the time it became a possibility, back in balmy December, I pictured myself taking the T on snowy days instead of driving. The day the extent of the T's collapse became clear (Feb. 3, the day after a storm) also happened to be my "final interview" at HR. My round-trip commute was something like seven and a half hours for what turned out to be a 25-minute chat, ending, happily, in an offer. But, intent on being on time, I took an early, early train on my frigid first day at the new job (Feb. 17, the day after a storm), leaving Newburyport at 7 a.m. only to arrive at Kenmore around 10 a.m., already an hour late for work and still more than a mile of snowy sidewalks from my new desk. I was standing in the huge and increasingly angry shuttle-bus line under the Citgo sign when I heard someone grumble in frustration that they'd just walk - and I looked over to see that it was my new boss. We got to work another half-hour of slipping and sliding later.
Naturally I spent much time my first couple of weeks writing about the shuttering and eventual re-opening of the T's street-level Green Line, which runs right past my office.
At this point, anticlimax looks pretty good.