, Newburyport, MA

March 8, 2013

You just never know about the snow

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — The month of March has this about it: Weather reports are likely to contain a lot of ifs, ands and buts.

This was written mid-week following a mid-afternoon walk down Newbury’s Hay Street. The temperature was well above freezing, and the breeze was soft and easterly.

It was a very promising afternoon, and it was made more so when I learned that a red-winged blackbird had been seen.

I am much taken by the red-wings. They arrive quietly on the cusp of spring to brighten the marshes with their distinctive chatter while settling in.

They are not put off by weather reports of threatening snow and don’t seem to be that much bothered if the reports are fulfilled.

We are, of course. Snow makes for all kinds of preparatory reaction because — well, you never know.

The first of it is welcomed, but we quickly tire of it. Snow — especially when it comes heavily laden with water or driven by strong winds — can be a major nuisance. There is little more challenging in our winters than shoveling when it’s wet and heavy.

Oh, it’s all very well if it doesn’t interfere with our daily activities, but more often than not it does. The charm of it is soon gone, especially when snowplows replace what has been so painfully removed or we find ourselves without electricity.

I was reminded of that on Tuesday by Bryan Eaton’s Daily News photo taken at the city’s snow dumping site in the riverside parking lot adjacent to Cashman Park where entry is adjacent to the former Towle Silver building.

Photos are limited to what available space on a news page provides. It would have taken a half page to show just how dominating the snow pilings are. It’s not just their size, it’s their foreboding menace. Huge dirt-laden masses await the warmth ahead to spill all they have sponged up from city streets into the river that so complicates efforts to attend environmental concerns.

Ah, but much of Newburyport is downhill, and there’s going to runoff no matter what we do with snow.

I found this year’s pilings most impressive because the dumping area was more semi-circular and less elongated than what I recall from previous visits.

The reality of snow is that as beautiful as it can be, the charm of it doesn’t weather all that well.

Not that it’s the weather’s fault. It is just that we no longer live with horses and sleighs. We made the most of it by compacting it during the ‘20s and early ‘30s before the tinkling of sleigh bells gave way to the roar of engines and the crunching of plows.

Selective memory being one of the advantages of great age and some things of its blessing, my own reaches a time when what plowing there was left enough to slide on, and sanding of side streets was limited to some 15 feet of their bottoms.

Snowfall creates a sponge that dissolves over time. Some of it evaporates. Some melts, carrying with it whatever it absorbed to wherever it goes.

In previous years when the much-appreciated winter celebration was held at Bartlet Mall, piles of it contributed wonderfully to the fun of sledding from the upper bank to the pond below.

As spring advanced, the piles became ugly with dirt, and whatever the plows had gathered slowly gave it all up in their melting, and was washed in by rain to what has made Frog Pond bereft of frogs.

That alone did not contribute to the pond’s problems, and ongoing studies have identified what needs be done to restore its name. Without that, what do we call it? Frogless Pond?

We don’t have that problem at Quill’s Pond because it is a way station for water that runs through it. The pond has a life of its own, and we share it. So snow or not, frogs and fish will soon be doing whatever frogs and fish do in a month or so, by which time we, along with the red-wings, will be about the business of spring, and what evolves from the mess of the moment will be but a memory.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is