A Catskill Catalog: March 3, 2010

Just got in from shoveling. Big snow is all encompassing, takes our full attention: physically, certainly, but mentally, psychologically, and emotionally, as well. Big snow brings up wellsprings of memory and talk.
“Ever seen anything like it?” I asked my neighbor, Roy, as we shoveled together. Big snow brings out neighborly work crews on every hill, in every village, hamlet and hollow.
“1958!” Roy replied. “The snow was so high, we sledded off the barn roof. Right from the peak of the roof clear across Dry Brook Road!” Roy went on to remember how the runners on the sleds he and his brothers rode so tore up the shakes on the roof that their grandfather made them put on a new roof come spring. Big snow is never free.
“Not in my lifetime,” another longtime Catskill Mountain neighbor said, with a shake of her head and a look-at-all-this snow expression in her eyes. Last summer, she had a four-foot fence built around the swimming pool on the property. The February 2010 Snowstorm filled it! That’s right, the snow filled the rectangle of fenced-in pool so that only the top few inches of fence-top was visible. That’s big snow.
I measured 42 inches, about the same as reported by others here on the Catskills’ west slope. The gal who sold me a snow shovel - the heavy snow broke two I’d had for years - drove in from Windham. She watched the snow levels decrease on her ride down. Up on the mountaintop, where she lives, they reported 52 inches of snow.
Nobody I’ve talked to remembers anything quite like the days-long accumulation of snow that fell this end of February 2010. The piled-up mounds of snow reminds one Catskill Mountain lifer of “an old-fashioned winter” like when he was a kid who couldn’t see over the plow. Of course, he allowed, he was a lot shorter then.
I, too, have a memory of walking down sidewalks cut through snow taller than I am. Wouldn’t be surprised if that was my non-Catskill Mountain experience of Roy’s 1958 storm. After all, how tall is a 10-year-old? Today, full grown, I’ve got, at my place, a waist-high warren of pathways cut through walls of snow, pathways that look like the trenches of World War I.
When I was a kid, people still mentioned the Blizzard of ’88. The March 1888 storm is perhaps the most notorious in history. The Great White Hurricane was a driving snowstorm that added frigid temperatures and gale force winds. The storm lasted 36 hours and the swirling winds created snowdrifts 40 and 50 feet high. New York, and other northeastern cities, came to a standstill. Over 400 people died.
Makes one count blessings, even with the tens of thousands of people who lost power in this storm. What’s remarkable is how localized the February 2010 Snowstorm was. East of Boiceville, not much snow, if any. Live in Arkville, you got socked. Live in Woodstock, you got kids home from school.
And this big snow was not a blizzard. The U.S. Weather Service defines a blizzard as, “a storm with winds of more than 35 miles an hour and snow that limits visibility to 500 feet or less.” A severe blizzard is defined as, “having winds exceeding 45 miles an hour, visibility of a quarter mile or less, and temperatures of 10 degrees F or lower.” We lacked the wind and the cold. Make you feel better?
Big snow makes memories, and this one will make many that last. My neighbors, Jackie and Lew, “went back through albums, looking at what we called great snow when the kids were little. Nothing like this.” The snow on their metal roof slid off, meeting the snow piled up from the ground, to form a wall of snow that shields their house completely. That’s big snow.
One longtime Fleischmanns resident remembers lots of snow when he was growing up in the 1930s. He can’t forget the image of big tractor-plows on tracks, like military tanks, getting stuck in snowbanks so deep that they had to be dug out, by hand, shovel by shovel.
An older friend who grew up Margaretville in the ’30s has warmer memories. He remembers snow up to his knees, and knickers, knee-length pants, that, once the snow flew, seldom dried. “We were wet most of the time,” he told me.
Vet Walley had a blacksmith forge on Main Street in Margaretville, near the Masonic Lodge. It was always warm in the shop. The heat from the forge was a refuge from the cold and the wet, and Vet, a quiet, somewhat gruff man, “never chased the kids away.”
Vet also made violins. The same hands that twisted and shaped hot iron cut and cemented the delicate woods and intricate turns of a violin. And on warm days, seasons away from the snows of winter, Vet Walley would sit up under the open canopy above his shop and play the violin.
If you hear the plaintive whine of violin strings, maybe that’s a blacksmith’s promise of warmer, dryer times ahead. Hear him? Maybe we just need to listen harder.