There is really no business like snow business

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
Biker's Diary

Several times in my adult life I have been involved with people experiencing snow for the first time. The first of these was when we moved to Minnesota from Florida when my son was 3 years old. We arrived in the summer; that fall the first snow of the season was heavy and deep. My son came out of the house and said only “Wow!” as he saw the white drifts, which were as high as the top front step. He immediately proceeded to walk off the side of the step, as though he could walk on top of the snow. Surprise!

The second time was when a young 24-year-old friend from Thailand came to Minnesota to study. He had lived his whole life in tropical Thailand, and right after his U.S. arrival, my friends began warning him about winter. When winter — in the form of snow — did arrive, it did so with a vengeance. Then he had many questions, such as “Do people walk on top of it?” and “Now that it has started, does it snow this much every day?”

He was endlessly curious about it. He smelled it to see if it had an aroma. He watched with fascination when the children were sliding down the hill across the street. “What if they can’t stop?” he asked. “Then they roll off the sled at the bottom,” I replied.

He was interested in the fact that in St. Paul we could get a ticket with a healthy fine if we didn’t shovel our sidewalks, and we could not leave our cars parked on certain streets at certain times after a snowfall.

There were so many things to explain about snow that I decided I had better provide a snow dictionary for him. So, friends and I started accumulating and defining terms that might be useful for snow neophytes.

One of my great professors, Dr. Robert Spencer, was a well-known cultural anthropologist. He said one can understand the cultural importance of something by the number of words that culture uses about that phenomenon. He used snow as an example: the Eskimos have more than 200 words to describe snow because it, and its condition, are very important to their survival and livelihood.

After friends and I had gathered our list of words we Minnesotans use in relationship to snow, I was looking it over and concluded that Minnesotans really do LIKE snow, because many of the items are related to fun! If we’ve put snow in the category of a necessary evil, it gives us great pride to be able to say we survived it. Snow is important to us too!

For about five years now, we have spent winters in Arizona. We returned two weeks ago as part of our move back to Minnesota. When we arrived, it was pretty balmy, considering that it was during what is the worst part of the season. That didn’t last long, however, and since then it has been the opposite: cold, lots of snow, and bitter wind. One thing I had forgotten is that this is the time of winter when Minnesotans, tired of winter, start getting cranky about it. Then it occurred to me that it is time to get out that snow dictionary; I needed a reminder that whether we admit it or not, Minnesotans — in the long run — do like winter!

Here are some examples from our old snow dictionary. A snowstorm is a welcome event for all Minnesotans as it brings outdoor fun and the possibility of a snow day. A snow day is that glorious time when school or work closes. It’s a free bonus day, when we have no obligations so we can do anything we want, preferably outside in the new snow. Snowstorm behavior occurs during and right after a snowstorm: strangers help each other, such as stopping and piling out of the car to push someone else’s car out of a snow bank. It also includes standing around talking about the weather, and what you did on your snowstorm day.

Snow angels are the imprint we leave in the snow when we lay down and wave our arms. Snow angels ward off the evil spirits of summer; sometimes they are the ones who exhibit great snowstorm behavior. A snowball fight occurs after each side makes a nice stack of snowballs, and then heaves them at each other. I don’t know how one side wins; I think the rules are made up as the battle goes along.

Snowbanks are mounds of snow that were really high in years gone by, but since Minnesota winters have gotten more “wimpy” with passing time, snowbanks are not nearly as high or as fun as they used to be.

A snowbelt is that strip of space running from west to east which gets the largest snowfall. It is always where the describer lives.

Snowbirds are those cars that are parked through a snowstorm and are covered with snow, and are a hot candidate for a ticket and towing. Some folks call people who winter in the south snowbirds, but those are sunbirds.

A snowblower is a handy machine but derided by real Minnesotans. It blows snow off sidewalks and driveways, but doesn’t work well in deep or wet snow, which is mostly what we get here in Minnesota.

A snowbrush is a vital piece of snow equipment, but it can never be found when really needed. A handy substitute is a credit card to scrape the ice off the windshield. Just don’t use one you’re going to need soon because this is a good way to break them. Another great addition to winter survival tools is a set of snow chains. This is the absolute macho gear for winter.

A snow cone is what we eat in the summer when we are yearning for Minnesota winters and snow. A snowsuit is what children get bundled up in to go outdoors. It causes them to feel immobilized for the time they are in the snowsuit.

Snowfall is the amount of snow expected or already here. Locations in Minnesota compete for the greatest amount of snowfall in a single storm, day, and season, just like in the summer when individuals compete for having grown the largest tomato. Snowflakes are the singular units of snow and are intended by nature to be caught on the tongue as they drift to earth. Supposedly no two are alike, something that no one has ever proven. Snow pellets are known as corn snow, a special variety of snowflakes.

A snow fort is a variation of a snow cave, often the venue from which snowball fights start. A snow job is like a snow screen, which is how Minnesotans describe winter to non-Minnesotans. And snow-making machines exist because Minnesotans don’t get enough snow.

Snowmass is what is in my driveway after a snowfall. Actually, it is a town but not in Minnesota. A snowplow is a noisy machine which races madly along thoroughfares gleefully throwing all the snow I’ve shoveled back onto the sidewalks or into my driveway. But that snow is now in the form of slushy snow turned to ice and mixed with sand and salt. A snowmobile is another horribly noisy machine used for terrifying wild animals in the woods and domestic farm animals peacefully grazing in the fields. Also used for racing between country taverns on a winter’s evening or weekend afternoon.

Snow removal is what we spend much of our winters doing. Because it is difficult to do edge-to-edge, it causes streets to become more narrow and parking lots smaller as the winter wears on. A snow shovel is a vital tool best purchased prior to the season, and usually out-of-stock when I need one, which is after the first great snowfall of the year. Snow shovels, like snow brushes, seem to always disappear over the summer.

My snow dictionary is too long to describe all of the entries, and there are many more, like snow skis, snowboards, snowmen, snow shoes, snow bunny, snow white, snow cave and snow sleigh. Looking back at the list now, it seems pretty clear that we really do enjoy winter, and yes, snow. It helps us define who we are: adaptable folks who can survive — with laughter and enjoyment — just about anything. Plus we can claim a sort of superiority: we don’t have hurricanes, or earthquakes, or monsoons.

Snow is predictable and easily survived. And fun.