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Notes from a white island

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When I opened my front door this morning, looking for my Watertown Daily Times on the porch, I was greeted by snow up to midthigh. And I discovered that looking for my paper was a triumph of hope over reality; as I surveyed the silent, white landscape, I saw that not even plows, let along newspaper delivery vehicles, were on the road in front of my house.

But I should back up. On Tuesday, I left my house in Adams at 7:10, a little late because of some snow clearing I had to do. Usually, I would be at my desk by 7:30 under those circumstances; instead, it was a minute past 8 when I unlocked my door. To translate, it took 50 minutes to go 14 miles, a stunning pace of just under 17 miles per hour.

It was obvious we were going to have an unusual work day, and I spent it mostly directing traffic to keep the Times website abreast of the latest storm news. The newsroom became Storm Central. By 2 p.m., it was pretty clear we were in the midst of a once-in-a-decade storm. By 3 p.m., I decided to head home, dreading another 50 minute ordeal.

Ha!

I pulled into my snow-clogged driveway at 4:20. Route 11 was jammed with people either going home or diverted to the two-lane highway by the closing of Interstate 81. Several times, my barely moving line of traffic stopped entirely, for indeterminate reasons. When I finally got to Fuller Road, I gratefully abandoned the state highway.

Fuller Road was better simply because there were only two of us on it, at least as far as I could tell. There could have been dozens more, but since visibility was down to about 50 feet at best, I felt like I was all alone.

This morning, when I arose at 5, it was pretty obvious that we had traded wind-driven snow for the kind of incessant snowfall that I’ve only experienced in the north country. I shoveled my back deck to let my dog get to some place to relieve herself (roughly a foot off the deck), and cleaned off my bird feeder to give my feathered friends access to the food. I then had coffee, checked the Times website, looked at my email, told my bosses I’d be working from home. At a little after six, I looked out on the back deck, and found 6 inches of snow on my bird feeder.

At 6 inches an hour, it doesn’t take that long for 3 feet to fall.

To live in Northern New York, you must be hardy. This is no country for the weak of spirit. When my neighbor saw I couldn’t get my snowblower started, he started to clear my driveway. I stopped him, told him I’d feel better if I could just borrow his machine and do the work myself. It took two hours to clear my 100-foot-long driveway, and it was exhausting. When the snow is well over the scoop on the snowblower, you have to make about twice as many laps to clear the snow.

It’s pretty clear that now, halfway through the work day, I’m not going to get to Watertown today. A trucker stopped in front of my house while I was blowing snow and asked the quickest way to get “back to Route 11”. That almost certainly meant the road is closed somewhere north of Adams. As I write this, looking out at Church Street, which becomes Fuller Road, a steady stream of traffic is moving north. Nothing is moving south.

I worry about my elderly neighbors (this makes my wife snort — I am the elderly neighbor for several of the folks on East Church Street) who may have trouble getting out, who may be running low on medication, or food, or hope. There is something isolating about a blizzard, if that be what we’re experiencing, that has few rivals in the natural world.

The north country inherently understands this, however, and its citizens coalesce around the common goal of beating the storm. Without my great neighbor Jeremy Foote, a Watertown City police officer, I would still be stranded here. Because of him, I am not.

Access to modern technology can make us at times seem less isolated. A click of a mouse, and we’re on the Times website reading about the storm. We go to an app on our smartphone, and we can see the weather forecast (the Weather Channel tells me it’s 12 degrees right now in Adams, with a lake-effect snow warning in effect until 6 a.m. Thursday). But no app can move 3 feet of snow from my driveway so that I can go to the drugstore, and no website can take my neighbor to the hospital if he has chest pains. And no website can ever knock on the door and say “Hey, you need anything?”

Fortunately the north country is full of people who will do all of those things, for their neighbor, simply because they care. And that is what makes the often God-awful weather here bearable.

Perry White is the city editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at pwhite@wdt.net

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