Burton on the Bay:
Words to a Poet on Snow
Nowadays, TV Trumps Celestial Trumpets

Announced with all the trumpets of the sky,

Arrives the snow.

                -Ralph Waldo Emerson.


RWE, you ought to be around these days. For snow, all the poetry is long gone.

No longer are the trumpets of the skies the heralds of the delightful white stuff. The only association with said skies comes via electronic airwaves from the mouths of TV weathermen.

Uncanny fellows these weathermen, they know the more they broadcast that dreaded S-word, the closer and longer their audience will listen. Why, it's getting so just the mention of it is akin to yelling "fire" in a theater.


You probably weren't looking down from above the skies last week when snow was trumpeted in most unpoetic balderdash by the fellows solemnly facing the cameras, fingers pointed at weather maps - and predicting doom.

So let me tell you how things have gone to hell down here on earth since your departure some 116 years ago.


Weather for Ratings

First came long-range forecasts, possibly snow four or five days hence.

Now RWE, that got attention. More so the next day when 'possibly' was changed to 'probably.' The next day it was 'snow's coming' and a few hours later 'snowstorm alert.' Then the biggie: 'snowstorm warning.'

Viewers were mesmerized. Who could even blink an eye when watching the tube. One would almost think, RWE, that those hucksters in TV studios (which probably don't even have windows through which they can see the first flake fall) realize that ratings are the name of the game.

The more of the gullible citizenry they can keep, eyes glued to their channel, the more commercials they can sell. I hear some TV big shots are thinking of pushing May Sweepstakes month ahead to January just to improve the ratings.

Hey, and if that doesn't wow viewers, add that ominous word 'ice,' just the mention of which sends chills down the spines of any Marylanders east of Frederick County.

But one begins to wonder, RWE, whether those weather fellows snug in their windowless dens realize their riveting commentaries quickly prompt a station break - not in the studio but on the other side of the tube.

The mesmerizing is broken when it settles in the mind of the viewers there's more to this than the possibility of missing a day of school or work. What's on the shelves? They don't use the words 'larder' or 'pantry' anymore down here, RWE.


Snow Panic

Anyhow, RWE, once it sinks in that the white stuff is coming, rooms where the TVs blare become empty. Father heads for the hardware store to buy another snow shovel; he forgot where the last one is. He bought it amidst a previous snow panic a few years back, then didn't need it.

While at the hardware store, he'll also get salt for the walks and driveway. He's probably got some of that around, too, but it has since hardened like a brick - and he could have used it for a salt lick to keep deer around his hunting grounds.

The kids hurry to the video shop for movie rentals, and Mother, she's off to the store, probably the convenience store, because she wants to get back home soon as possible to watch the big countdown as some minion on the TV news staff shivers outdoors studying the skies with that worried look on his face.

In the convenience stores - convenient in everything but price and variety - she can get her necessities fast. Jugs of milk, cans of tuna, loaves of bread and toilet paper. The old Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs, even the outhouses of your time are long gone, RWE, but I must admit I don't miss those nighttime trots in the cold of winter to the little two-holer back on the New England farm of my youth.

Oh, and let's not forget firewood. Houses still have fireplaces, and some of them even work, but RWE, you'd be astonished what goes into them these days. Mom and Dad will grab an armful of phony logs wrapped in a wax-like paper at a couple bucks a clip - just in case the electricity goes out, you know, the power lines get kayoed.

Let's hope they don't. Those imitation logs might burn brightly with the exotic chemicals in them, but you get as much heat from one as from bringing a full-grown St. Bernard dog into the living room.

There are still a few purists around who insist on real wood, and you'll like this, RWE. In a pre-packaged $3 or $4 bundle of what passes as hardwood, you don't get as many sticks as we used to carry to the wood box in a single armful from the outside woodshed back when kids did chores, and feeding the fire was just one of our daily chores.

As I watched shoppers snatch the phony and real logs from piles outside stores last week, it dawned on me they were paying more for an armful your kid brother or sister could carry in one sweep than was the going price for a whole cord to city people when I was a boy.

Our families didn't buy wood, RWE, we cut it - and with two-man saws, an ax and bucksaw. And it had been around for many months to season, dry out. Why when I turned 13, my birthday present was my very own ax - and it wasn't appreciated. I knew what it meant. Probably the same with you.

Now, RWE, I've got a little bit of a confession to make. In this past storm as wife Lois was relaying the latest TV weather info to me, I noticed there were two cans of catfood left in the cupboard - and two cans don't last two cats too long. I know in your time, family cats and dogs subsisted on table leftovers (barn cats thrived on fresh milk), but the veterinarians of today tell us they've got to have balanced diets.

So there I am at Lauer's fighting the mob to grab a dozen cans of salmon, whitefish, liver 'n bacon and tuna 'n egg, when this lady approached to ask about litter, and not for her cat. She didn't know which brand to get to give better traction to her auto's tires because some weatherman suggested she could be marooned on a side street for days when the ice came. No kidding.


The Thrill Is Gone

You know what bothers me the most about all this snow hullabaloo, RWE? The surprise is gone. The thrill of waking one morning to find snow as high as the window sill is gone. We know it's coming, and we know it won't live up to its advance billing.

The young of today can't appreciate the words of your contemporary John Greenleaf Whittier, who in his epic Snowbound told us what it was like when weathermen were unheard of in New England, but blizzards weren't - and we didn't need anyone to forecast them for us:

The sun that brief December day

Rose cheerless over hills of gray.

And, darkly circled, gave at noon

A sadder light than waning moon.

That's when we knew snow was coming, RWE, and that's when the livestock got extra rations, so did the wood box, and we bundled up within.

| Issue 3 |

Volume VII Number 3
January 21-27, 1999
New Bay Times

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