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Monday, December 28, 2015


By Srianee (Bunter) Dias

Don't worry, I don't have a drug problem!  I'm talking about about the wet white COLD stuff that descends on us in the northern part of the United States intermittently from November through March. I don't remember when I saw snow for the first time, but it was probably sometime in 1970 or 1971 shortly after I moved to New York City. It didn't have much of a impact on me, because at that time I was staying at home with my daughters and we were able to watch the very pretty snow flakes from inside our warm apartment, and enjoy the few inches that had accumulated on the ground after the snow storm was over.

After I moved to Connecticut, it was a different story. I was driving my children several miles to a Montessori School every morning, even though I lived within walking distance of the Hospital where I was doing my residency training in Pathology. When snow storms were predicted, there was palpable anxiety in our house. How many inches will accumulate? Will they close the schools? The school closings are usually announced on the local radio stations, and very often one wouldn't know for certain until the early morning announcements. We would watch the late night TV weathermen who loved to "hype" it up when a Nor'easter was coming from the south along the shore, picking up more and more moisture from the ocean. They would strut their stuff, predicting 10 or 20 inches.  It was almost a game to hit the target number. Sometimes the storms veered out to sea and left only a few inches on the ground.

I didn't care exactly how many inches accumulated on the ground, I just needed to know whether or not to line up a baby sitter for the next day.  Hospitals didn't close down, so we had to show up regardless of the weather.  Once, my colleague and I resorted to taking our three girls (all between the ages of 4 and 6) to work, and allowed them to amuse themselves in the conference room with art projects.  They survived!

Then I began to realize that other people were really enjoying themselves during the snow season, and started making day trips and weekend trips with my daughters, and sometimes friends, determined to learn skiing.  The kids got the hang of it in a very short time, but my first group  lesson resulted in my crashing into my instructor and taking him down with me.  Fortunately, neither one of us was hurt.  This first experience did not discourage me, and I made several other attempts to learn downhill skiing.  I succeeded in enjoying the experience a few times with a patient instructor, whenever the ski slope was not so crowded (mid-week) and the teenage hot-shots were all busy at school.  Finally, the rational side of me realized that there were better things to do than strapping on a pair of skis and uncomfortable boots and sliding down a mountain with the chilly wind blowing in my face and neck.  I found the perfect solution and stayed inside the ski lodge with a good book and a hot chocolate, by the fireplace, while my daughters had fun on the slopes.

I have also endured some major blizzards in the past.  The definition of a blizzard is when the snow comes down at a rapid rate with high winds and near zero visibility.  Luckily, most of these storms are predicted ahead of time, so most people dash in to the grocery stores to stock up in anticipation of several days of hibernation.  The stocks of bread and milk get depleted rapidly.  Most wise people stay at home during these fierce storms.  Driving on the roads during a blizzard means risking at least a "fender bender" or worse.   For those of us who work in hospital there is no choice; we have to get the work done.  Routine surgery is often cancelled, and those who can make it into work plan on staying the night.  Patients who are able to go home get discharged in order to accommodate hospital staff who have to stay overnight.  I have often camped out on the floor of my office on an air mattress rather than risk my life going home.  Then, there were other days when I braved the weather and the slick roads, and made it home, usually if I had the day off the next day!

One memorable blizzard was a surprise in early April.  My commute was usually about 20 minutes from hospital to home, but that day it took much longer. My department started emptying out early after we completed the urgent and most important work.  It was already Spring so some of us hadn't even worn our warm coats to work that morning.  Fortunately, my winter gear consisting of a blanket and shovel were still in my Honda Civic.  I headed home in a complete "white out" where I could not see the road at all.  The roadway and sidewalks were all  blended into one continuous snowdrift.  Fortunately, the route was very familiar and some of the barely recognizable buildings and the tail lights of the cars ahead of me guided me towards home.  Any hills or upgrades that one did not notice in clear weather were now like climbing an Alpine trail.  Other cars were getting stuck in the rapidly falling snow, now about 6 inches high on the ground.  My trusty 5 speed manual transmission kept me moving forward, although my car was barely clearing the snow.  Finally, got to an area where I couldn't see the edge of the road, went too close to the edge, and hit a snow bank where my Honda just got stuck.  I couldn't move forward or reverse.  I then got out with my shovel and began shoveling the snow away from under my car and around the wheels.  A few minutes later a Saab drove up and ended in the same predicament.  A guy in a suit got out (he had left his overcoat at home that morning) and asked if he could borrow my shovel, promising to help me after he dug his car out.  It didn't take him much time to clear the snow under his car and then he started working on my car.  After a few half hearted attempts, he mumbled something about waiting for help, handed the shovel back to me and drove off!  I was speechless, and couldn't retrieve swear words fast enough from my vocabulary to yell after him.  A few minutes later, a few good Samaritans, a bunch of teenagers in another Saab, armed with long handled shovels drove up and dug me out in a matter of minutes.  I was on the slippery road again.  Just near the turn off to my street where there was a hill, I got stuck again.  But, this time there were several guys on the side of the road who were lending a hand by pushing the cars up that hill.  I was truly grateful for all those kind people who got me home safely that evening.  And I also learned a lesson that day.  Never trust a guy in a suit!

At  Christmas time, the radio stations play songs such as "White Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland" which romanticize snow. Frankly, I don't see anything romantic or enchanting about snow.  After all these adventures, I now resort to avoidance by flying away to Sri Lanka for most of the winter.


  1. The White Stuff and all that, what a story! Looking back, you must suffer from shivers just thinking of it Srianee! My first view of the WS was in 1973 in Brighton and wasn't I fascinated! But like you, the "blacker" aspects of the White Stuff dawns you pretty quickly, such as difficulties associated with traveling by foot or by car.I must say though, that the sight of clean, fresh snow on a sunny wintry day is beautiful. There is a kind of silence and freshness which is hard to describe.

    I enjoyed reading your well presented story and look forward to many more.

  2. Srianee
    It was a pleasure to read your well written piece.
    Thank you for your experiences with the white stuff. It may be global warming that we don't experience such heavy snow around London as in the 1970's and 80's. I am certainly not complaining. Having been born with the sun on my face I love the warmth. Some even go looking for the snow and ice in the winter resorts.
    It is the torrential rain and the flooding that bothers us now. The debate goes on as to its cause as some believe these events are just cyclical.

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  4. I first went to London at the end of December 1971. I expected to wade through snow on my way for work. I was bitterly disappointed that there was no snow for a few weeks. One afternoon when I saw flakes of snow falling on to the road I ran on to the road and let some flakes settle on my clothes. The winters of the early seventies were fairly mild and I did not see much snow. In 1979 when I was spending sabbatical leave working as a locum consultant at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston , Lincolnshire, I was watching the election results on TV at nigh(that was the election that Margaret Thatcher won)When I returned to my apartment late at night there was no snow.However the next morning all the roads and lawns were covered with heavy snow.(I cannot remember the month but it was between March and November)
    When I "sell" Sri Lanka as a tourist resort to visitors from abroad, I mention two things about our wonderful country, Firstly, ours is the only country in the world where one could see the largesT mammal on earth (elephants at Yala) and the largest mammal in the sea(whales off Mirissa)on the same day. Secondly I mention that our country has everything a tourist may wish for other than snow! Even that may become a possibility with climate change.

    9that was the election which Margaret Thatcher won)

    1. Thank you, Nihal, Speedy and Sanath for your comments. I sent this to Lucky yesterday and last night we had our first "mixed precipitation" for the season, later than usual this year. It is not much, but the mixture of sleet and snow has created havoc at the airports with many cancellations at major hubs like Chicago and Dallas. Our local airport in Hartford is closed at the moment, due to icy runways I suppose. My daughter and son-in-law are due to fly out this afternoon, but may have problems connecting in Chicago. See what I mean? Who needs this additional stress?

    2. I do hope they catch their flight. Interesting aspects of snow- the novelty, the beauty, the inconvenience, the cost, etc.!

  5. This is a poem I wrote in July last year, inspired by the White Stuff!


    Fresh spreading innocence of heavy snow
    Serene eerie silence I know
    Bright glittering sunshine
    Blinding reflection on eyes of mine.
    In a flash, this turbulent mind
    Fettered with doubts and shadows
    Like dead leaves hiding purity of meadows,
    Becomes flushed with clarity divine.

  6. Isn't it great of our Mahendra to go lyrical on even a tough subject like this?
    Well I go along with you totally and can add a few of my experiences but much less than what you have experienced. The UK is has a temperate climate and in fact we almost pray for snow at Christmas. But I see the point you are making, that it is nothing to romanticise about.
    I really enjoyed reading your account. Thanks, Srianee!
    from Zita

  7. Thanks Zita and Speedy. Speedy, that was beautifully expressed! I am not sure if you will see this reply because it is so late. I was rather busy planning my getaway from the cold. I am presently almost halfway to Sri Lanka at the moment, hanging out in Hamburg with my other daughter and family. I will be in touch from Colombo.