Friday, February 12, 2010

One Can Hear the Falling Snow...and Trees

Show and Tell

Wintertime in north central Texas generally means a generous mix of cool and cold days, with some deceptively balmy ones thrown in for good measure. Some years we’ll get a fierce ice storm, and maybe a flurry or two, but usually we just coast through, biding our time from when the summer heat abates in October until it cooks up again in May.

This winter, however, has seen an extremely rare white Christmas, and then yesterday, the most record-breaking snowfall of all, up to nearly a foot across Dallas, Fort Worth, and our sprawling exurbs.

The photo above was taken yesterday, when the snow was only half as deep as it is today. Even though we have much more snow now, the streetscape isn't nearly as pretty. Yards and streets are littered with branches and limbs that have fallen from the weight of so much snow, and things are considerably messy. It’s a sticky, wet, thick snow, which while ideal for snowmen (our neighbor's is probably nearly 7 feet tall), has decimated our heavily-treed neighborhood.

Late yesterday, two limbs crashed down onto the end of our driveway, and the 50-foot-tall magnolia in the back yard lost several major limbs. In other parts of the country, losing limbs off of trees is an inconvenience. Here in Texas, trees are our major source of protection from the summer sun, and many people value big trees over a lush lawn. So seeing the damage around the yard was hard – but at least, nothing fell onto the house.

This morning, I went out to clear away the driveway, and was making very good progress. Despite losing two limbs, the tree canopy over the driveway remained full. All of sudden, a telltale cracking and popping of limbs about to fall struck me with fear. I was right underneath them! As fast as I could scramble, I charged the opposite way, towards the garage, but with all of the snow and slush on the concrete driveway, I couldn't establish a solid footing. I found myself sprawling arms-first into the slush, as two more large branches exploded onto the driveway where I had just been standing.

Years ago, lightening struck that tree, and it hasn't performed well in storms since. Wind and rain have battered it considerably, but yesterday’s snowfall more than took its toll. I’m not sure if there will be enough remaining to make it worth keeping – with all of the snow still on it, making a determination is rather difficult. At any rate, a neighbor who owns a landscaping business just happened to be driving by, and said he’d clear away everything for $100. Sold!

Snow Daze

From Virginia to New England this week, snow has also been the big topic, and maybe instead of a snow scene from Texas, a photo from a tropical paradise would be more enjoyable – for all of us! However, we have winter for a reason, even if some of that reason is to make us appreciate the other seasons all the more!

I remember a winter years ago, when my family lived in Upstate New York, when the snow was so high it was above our kitchen window. You could look out the window, and see just a bluish frost. Another winter, my brother and I built impressive forts in the huge snowbanks down at the end of our long driveway. I remember it was so cold, we carried pans of water from the house down to the forts and reinforced our structures with ice! The next day, we were in the house when I heard a snowplow coming down the road... and then the hollow, muffled “crunch” as the plow hit the iced forts. I’m sure the snowplow driver thought he had hit our mailbox, although he’d never hit it before. Needless to say, Mom had neither realized where exactly we had built our forts, nor would she allow them to be rebuilt when she heard my brother and me lamenting the destruction.

Indeed, I think kids get far more out of wintertime than adults to. Kids don’t have to get up at 5am to dig out the driveway. Kids don’t have to drive in the winter precipitation or worry about too much snow on the roof. And best of all, kids get snow days from school – what fun those are! You can play in the snow and come inside for some hot soup mom has made. Sure, grown-ups can go skiing and ice fishing, but by far, kids get the better end of the deal.

Life's Cycle

For people who live "up North", wintertime is the season around which they plan their year. For example, if you built a house, you automatically built a steeply-pitched roof in anticipation of snowfall accumulations, and some roofs have built-in shields and spikes to prevent ice buildup. In rural areas, mailboxes are set away from the road, to give room for snowplow blades. Everything is insulated, even before it became tax-deductible, except winterized buildings are also taxed at a higher rate. Many towns build sidewalks further away from the streets, to allow for snowbanks. Exclusive new homes are built with heated driveways and mudrooms with plenty of storage for bulky coats.

Here in Texas, life tends to rotate the opposite direction, with summer being the season that dominates the year. Air conditioning is standard equipment in cars, homes, businesses, stores – everything! Eaves of roofs are wider to help shield homes from the sun. You think twice about wearing dark colors during the summertime, you can skip buying coats every year, short sleeves stay in the closet year-round, and insulation is meant to keep the heat out, not in.

Still, even in Texas, we get cold snaps and snow that, like yesterday, can wreak havoc on ordinary life. Our neighborhood looks like a disaster zone, with limbs resting on cars, laying across roofs, and even one whole tree that fell over, slicing right through a two-level wooden playset (maybe the kids in that family are hating winter right about now?). People "up North" might scoff at our comparatively wimpy trees and amazement at all the snow, but hey - who's better at living in months of 100-degree heat? Well, nobody, actually; but at least that's what we brag about, instead of how much snow we get each winter.

Yes, a photo of a tropical paradise would be nice, and being there in person right now might be even nicer.

But then again, maybe not... That heat will be here before you know it. And don't believe any Texan when they say, "but it's a DRY heat"!

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