Snowstorms are much more Fun when you Don’t Drive in them


I call that an epic snowstorm.

In Bangor, the snow began at six o’clock Sunday evening and ended around the same time Monday. Two feet of snow fell during those 24 hours. We never lost power or heat. Two different cable channels were running marathons of the original Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager. When both channels showed commercials, we shoveled.

We shoveled a lot. We shoveled out a place for the dog to pee, and a corridor from the front door to the street. The snow came down as fast as we could move it. The car in the driveway became an island, the overturned dinghy in the back yard just another drift.

At the height of it, I slapped on cross-country skis and headed downtown. I’ve never seen the city so paralyzed. Streets were covered in a foot or more of snow, and I’m not talking small side streets. Court Street and Union Street were barren fields of white. It was like sailing in the fog, past familiar landmarks, struggling to recognize them in the murk.

I’ve seen more snow accumulate in Bangor over a month, but nothing like this. We were warned. Husson University and the University of Maine, normally among the last holdouts, canceled Monday classes at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. Neither campus opened until noon on Tuesday.

There were only two cars parked on lower Main Street, both in front of Paddy Murphy’s. I laughed when I saw the collection of skis and snowshoes outside the door. Perhaps a dozen hardy souls were inside. The bartender said they were closing at three-thirty.

A few other places were open. I saw someone trudging back from our small neighborhood store with a gallon of milk. The lights were on in the post office when I skied past. But the center of town was eerily deserted, silent except for the wind.

The storm reverberated through the whole week. Monday’s city council workshop on the Community Connector bus hub was canceled, of course, and rescheduled for Wednesday, when a follow-up storm was due. I shuffled due dates for my classes and sent e-mails out to my students.

On Tuesday morning, Valentine’s Day, we shoveled out the lovely Lisa’s car. I’ve observed here that my attitude toward winter storms has changed 180 degrees since I stopped owning cars. I disliked driving in snow, I disliked buying snow tires and antifreeze, and I disliked shoveling out the car.

But I pitched in cheerfully, and next week when my shift at the basketball tournaments ends at 11 o’clock on a cold winter night, she’ll be happy to come pick me up. Of such small compromises are lives constructed.

By Wednesday morning, the University still didn’t have most of the walkways plowed. Students and teachers marched to classes on makeshift footpaths. A few customary routes were blocked. Parking was a nightmare – or so I heard from a fellow bus passenger.

On Wednesday evening, I attended the bus hub workshop, which I will write about next week. Despite the snow on the ground and the threat of more, some 60 people showed up, indicating the importance of public transportation in Bangor. I walked home after the meeting feeling hopeful.

On Thursday morning I awoke to find our beautifully shoveled walkway blocked with a plug of plowed snow taller than I am. New snow had fallen, but only a few fluffy inches. No, this was the work of the snowplow in the night. It had left another wall at the end of the driveway.

By Thursday afternoon, I figured the ski trails at the University of Maine would be groomed – at least the primary ones. I took my skis, boots and poles up to campus on the bus. The conditions were perfect.

I am continually thankful for the land-grant university where I work. Anyone can use these trails. During the winter months I often keep my skis in my office, a short walk from the trailhead. Among the tall pine trees you can barely feel the wind. It lacks the delightful anarchy of skiing down Main Street in Bangor, but it more than makes up for it in access and serenity.

You don’t need a car to enjoy a Maine winter. Looking over this piece just now, I realize I haven’t been in a car since the day before the storm. We went grocery shopping, like everyone else. But for the past few days it’s been boots, bus and skis. And shovels. A car may not be a necessity, but a snow shovel surely is.

Hank Garfield

About Hank Garfield

Hank's writing has appeared in San Diego Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Downeast, Bangor Metro, and elsewhere. He is the author of five published novels, and is now seeking a publisher for his recently-completed novel, A Sprauling Family Saga.