Monday, February 21, 2011


     Snowy winters seem easily predictable after the fact. “Yeah, I seen them squirrels collecting acorns, so I knew it was gonna snow big,” says neighbor Ben in July, safely away from the previous heavy snowfall and still far enough from next season to make him sound authoritative. He didn’t tell me about squirrels and nuts in November.
Or, Sally tells you in spring that “I was just sitting on my deck overlooking the river, and the chill that hit my bones that August night told me we would have five storms.” She never mentioned the chill in winter.
Where I live, in a sometimes-memorable part of the Northeast, 25 miles from New York City, we don’t get the relatively heavy winters of Albany or Buffalo, but we can be hit hard every so many years. The current season is one example, with a gently falling but heavy snowfall as I write this. It is beautiful, covering the very dirty ground left by ice, once-white snow and tons of road salt, sand and other debris. Leftover leaves and litter are there, too, the product of the untidiness that comes with suburbs around here, though Fred’s house, a small, even modest, one-level abode always kept neat as a pin, was shining like a jewel in the recent but short-lived thaw. 
Fred’s fourth generation, having lived through the Depression when so little was to be had and what you did have you kept clean and working so you could reuse. He also recalls non-suburbia in Rockland County and a less consumer-oriented time, when the roadside had no litter. There were no fast-food places, so no wrappers tossed from car windows. And how many had cars anyway? And did people toss things into the street save in city gutters, where they were supposed to do so and which were cleaned by manual street-sweepers?
Leaves were raked and burned in the country before suburbia, and that method added to pollution, yes, but the fact is the lawns were raked in the first place.
Snow in suburbia is a sometimes welcome sight since it covers faults, fooling you for a short while that all is hunky-dory under the great cover. But like Henry, who quietly says in November that December, January and February will see many storms and is simply right, nature has its smarts, too. It will tell you the truth, eventually.
For those of us who see “progress” as inevitable but who reluctantly but actually welcome gradual and planned change as opportunity for others, the misuse of land through overgrowth, through insensitivity, through greed and selfishness, is a collective eyesore that literally can be next door. Many in suburbia keep their places neat, a fair number do not. 
Old Fred’s place is a model of care. The McMansion nearby is not, three abandoned cars left on a deteriorated driveway. Ironically, an army of landscapers descend weekly in season, keeping the green grass trimmed. They mow around the cars protruding off the broken drive. Up a bit, there is the 1977 home not painted since, cars parked on the lawn but at least registered, a broken washing machine under a huge deck just completed for many thousands of dollars. This is the second owner, the first having left the building in long disrepair after telling us he was going south because suburbia was too built-up and the taxes too high. He was welcomed from Gotham in the “progress” of 1978 but for 25 years abused the invitation through property neglect. Taxes rose to provide him services. Then he left us holding the bag.
Now it is snowing, and the unsightliness look at his old home and the McMansion are covered by the same white blanket that graces Fred’s small spot. But spring is coming, in suburbia, too. The truth awaits.

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