The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.
— James Russell Lowell
When Lowell penned his famous tribute to a winter storm as balm to a grieving soul, folks had a different relationship to weather than we do.
In the 19th century, most of the population got their forecasting information in the same time-honored ways: folklore, myth and, of course, The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Rain, snow and storms were either a blessing or a curse, depending on the season but there wasn’t much they could do about it.
That transplanted Connecticut Yankee, Mark Twain, noted that New England weather was “always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on the people to see how they will go.”
Today, of course, the weather is big business with private companies vying with the National Weather Service — which gathers most of the forecast data in the first place. It’s also a big ratings driver for local TV news.
A recent column in The Washington Post noted, “Now, every cold front that threatens to slicken roads and cause airport delays along the Eastern corridor (where, not merely coincidentally, almost all network TV news executives live and work) has become urgent news.”
Of course, weather — excuse us, “weather events” — can be major stories, particularly when they threaten life and property. If your local “Storm Center Team Doppler Radar Crew” tells you to stay off the roads because it’s risky, it’s best to listen to them — even if that report comes from that station’s very own storm chaser unit that’s barreling down Route 128 behind a gang of MassHighway plows.
But not every flake is an occasion for panic — or to rush out and buy bread and milk.
Every pine and fir and hemlock
Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
Around here, we’ve just weathered — you’ll excuse the expression — an early one-two punch of storms that largely spared us major calamities in terms of power failures and serious accidents.
On the one hand, the snow is going to impact an already foreshortened shopping season.
On the other, it’s turned our usually gloomy late-fall landscape into a Hallmark card.
And if that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, we don’t know what will.
Maybe it’s time for us to embrace a bit of Lowell’s attitude and see what he called “the noiseless work of the sky” not as a threat to our busy lives, but as a welcome respite from them.
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan’s-down,
And still fluttered down the snow.