Capitalizing (on) Snow Days

Is there anything we do better than Snow Days? Forget for a moment the cold and the danger and the inconvenience. See the smiles.

I grew up near Chicago, where you carry your shovel and tunnel to work if necessary — city of broad shoulders and all that. I moved to the East Coast, where half-days are the norm. My children grew up with late starts and early dismissals. I had never even heard those terms in the Midwest.

But here in Oregon, every day with snow is a Snow Day waiting to be capitalized (on). Our radio stations should change their announcement protocol, listing only the institutions that are not closing for the day. The list will be short so they should insist those entities briefly explaining WHY they are staying open.

Why stay open when everything else is closed? Why show up for work, when your neighbors are populating their front yards with snow people? Why miss the day when cars don’t rule the road, when the people “taking to the streets” becomes a wakeful dream?

Snow stands (or falls) alone as something white that earns our embrace. Think about food staples: rice, bread, flour, sugar, eggs — we consider a more “natural” alternative to each, based entirely on hue. Except snow, where whiter is better. For once, the world around us looks whiter than we are.

Rain darkens our trees and our mood, but snow brightens both. How many of you woke in the night this week and thought a neighbor left a light on? Two of my neighbors reported that they woke on Wednesday, looked outside, and decided to sleep in. Both work from home.

A pillowy landscape quiets everything. Whatever we were taking so seriously yesterday is covered over today. You can walk down your block and count the chimneys with fires people are sitting beside. From that you can extrapolate the amount of cocoa being consumed. Then go and do thou likewise.

In many neighborhoods, you can knock on any front door and invite yourself in, adding nothing but a handful of marshmallows. We’re friendly that way. Kids still sell magazines or cookies or collect signatures door-to-door, so our front gates aren’t sacrosanct.

We’re friendly because we camp often, or we plan to camp often. When your front door is sometimes a flap and the fire is open for all, it’s easier to let down your guard at other times.

Weather animates campers. Any sudden change makes them scurry around like sugar ants on a kitchen counter. After the weather episode has passed, small talk comes easily. Those drying their clothes by the fire later are easy to spot, and it’s easy to relate. “There, but by the grace of Gore-Tex, go I.”

Maybe that’s what propels people outdoors when the snow comes down. It’s their chance to wear their snow garb without loading skis onto the cartop carrier and driving for an hour. The steady stream of streetwalkers offer a fashion show of winterwear.

Late snows like this week’s create a special havoc. Buds and blossoms catch more of the heavy snow as it falls, so plants become lumber by changing only their axis. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to knock on three neighbors’ doors before we locate a chain saw. Try your chances with that in any other city.

If I were responsible for recruiting businesses to locate their next expansion here, I would take them around on a day like we had Wednesday. We offer employers smart people who will work hard, but watching how easily and how well we play together is equally important.

Character is what people reveal when they think you’re not looking. Watching us “not work” together tells you a lot about who we are. We help our neighbors. We share our tools. We enjoy each other’s company. We weather adversity well. We smile.

And by the way, it’s not just adversity that brings out the best in us. Mark the first sunny Saturday afternoon of spring. Walk around your block and count the happy gardeners, smiling at their soil.

It sounds like a wonderful joke, but that day could come tomorrow.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.