Friday Takeaway: Bill Dwight

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

As I write, our first snow is falling. It’s a gentle snow rendering everything it lands on beautiful; rounding the hard edges, blanching the grays, browns and blacks and muffling the harsher sounds. I will savor it for the time being because tomorrow, as we confront the labor and inconvenience caused by this winter product, I fully expect to hear the keening and the curses that are as much a part of this season as ice and prematurely dark evenings.

My family is bicoastal. My mother moved out west to California more than 40 years ago with my two younger brothers. My son and one of my nephews have joined them in recent years. My sisters and I, despite being well traveled, chose to stay in the region where we grew up. We each did stints in the Golden West. But the Pioneer Valley is where we are supposed to be. 

As you can imagine, our family frequently indulges in regional chauvinism, especially when it comes to the weather. I’m sure many of you have been on the receiving end of warm-climate cracks delivered by some smug flip-flop-shod braggart. I’ll bet it happened when you posted pictures of the heap of snow outside of your back door to show off the magical scene you woke up to. You’re just setting yourself up to be taunted: “78 degrees here! Got to go clean up the ripe avocados that fell in my hot tub last night!”  

Oh puh-leeze.

Here’s my confession: I love winter, and I love snow. My affection borders on obsession. My mood goes south when a snowstorm worthy of being given a name misses us and pastes Worcester. I monitor Dave Hayes The Weather Nut on Facebook as if I had money on the outcome. I’m goofy about winter, not to the exclusion of all other seasons. I love them all, but I feel particularly protective of winter — especially when some weather-pampered blowhard mocks me, presuming I’m steeped in misery.

Because of my family’s regional divisions, I have tempered most of my withering responses to this type of contempt. My youngest brother virtually grew up in L.A. He’s a surfer, for crying out loud. When he comes back east to visit, he lectures me about living in a house with stairs —  stairs that will eventually do me in, apparently —  surrounded by potentially lethal trees poised to crush my dangerous house at any moment. I point out that he lives in a tsunami evacuation zone. Touché. 

My mother has sworn off coming back here between the months of November and April because she will never expose herself again to the harsh insult of cold, ice and the absence of flowers. Last Christmas when we all ventured out to spend it with her, the temperature plummeted to 29 degrees there while it was 70 here, an anomaly, I’ll admit, but we have heating systems and insulation. They have space heaters that are just glorified toasters, and their walls are filled with aggressive ants. 

I say to them that they are deprived of the rich variety of scenes we see outside our windows. The view is never the same for too long. They look out their windows and the variety, if there is any at all, consists of calamities. “Oooh. What a pretty mudslide!” “Hmm, that fire seems to be moving pretty fast. I should grab an In-N-Out burger on my way to the shelter.” “Just look at how those palm trees dance. It must be a 7.5 seismic event. Better find a doorframe to stand in.” 

When it’s cold and snowy, I put on a hat and coat. They have bug-out bags and enough water in plastic containers to last a month. We shovel snow and scrape ice off our cars. And if we don’t, it eventually melts. In California, your car could be swallowed up by the angry earth or incinerated or buried under your neighbor’s yard, as their land slides downhill and becomes your yard. In Florida, they have mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds and pythons as long as trailers. We have hummingbirds the size of hummingbirds and benign snakes the size of Twizzlers. We’ve got ticks and Lyme disease, sure. But thanks to climate change (which the governor of Florida refuses to acknowledge, despite the fact that his state is slowly shrinking by sinking), those infected ticks are now stalking us in practically every state. 

We here in these parts don’t brag about our weather like those cocky warm-climate types. We usually apologize for it or make up pithy quips like “Nice day for ducks” or “Cold enough for ya?” or “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”

I say, if you don’t like the weather, why don’t you just move and stop bellyaching.

I could go on. And I have. Believe me. I’ll just close with this:

I was pondering the falling snow-globe snow as I was driving north up route 91 to Vermont with my wife. (A beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson comes to mind: “It sifts from Leaden Sieves/ It powders all the Wood./ It fills with Alabaster Wool/ The Wrinkles of the Road.”) Much of what I have written here is the result of those musings on that drive. As I passed the second Brattleboro exit, I was grinning at the signs that we, who live here, don’t even notice but that must seem strange to people not used to our cold. Signs like “Bridge Ices Before Road.”

Crossing one such bridge, my truck started to pirouette like a dancer in “The Nutcracker,” then pin-balled off the guardrail, shattering all the plastic parts that make up the front end. It came to a stop on the opposite side of the road with steam billowing from the stoved-in radiator. 

“Touché” said the god of irony. 


Bill Dwight is a Northampton City Councilor and a pie wrangler at the Florence Pie Bar.