Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Dust of Snow

In Australia autumn officially begins on 1 March and ends 31 May. The vast diversity of the ecological zones of the Australian continent renders the rigid American seasonal calendar an imposed cultural concept rather than relevant to climactic conditions.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Robert Frost

It's forecast to snow on the weekend. New York in the snow. I love it. But then I also love fall and spring and seventy percent of summer here. The thirty percent when temperatures hover around 100F (38C) is just a bit too hot even for an Australian.

The best time to look at the snow is when it has recently fallen, preferably in the morning. New York then gets that winter wonderland look and feel.

If the snow accumulates more than a couple of inches, it gets shoveled up onto the road (street U.S.) side of the sidewalks, so that people can walk without slipping. It is pushed onto curbs from the road (street U.S), so that cars can drive. And then it turns to black ice (polluted frozen snow). Dangerous and ugly.

Long term New Yorkers prefer the spring to winter. The snow which is a novelty still to me, even after fifteen years, is a burden to those who have lived most of their lives here. And it is true that spring in New York has its own wonders.

People start getting out of their apartments where they'd tended to stay, emerging only for work and provisions in the winter months.

And there's Central Park. Fall and spring are perhaps the best seasons for wandering there.

Summer in New York. When I think of summer I think of the iconic black and white photo of boys playing under a stream of water from a fire hydrant. I looked for it on the web but couldn't find it. I found a similar one but not the classic.

Fall or autumn? Americans know what autumn IS, but prefer to use the word "fall".

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary "fall" traces its origins to old Germanic languages. The exact derivation is unclear, the Old English fiƦll or feallan and the Old Norse fall all being possible candidates.

I'm used to it now, but when I first came here (and it WAS autumn when I arrived), I heard people people talk of color and of excursions to see "the foliage". Coming from a country where native trees are not deciduous and the colors of our eucalypts vary all year round, I wondered why people would drive to places like Vermont to see leaves. I know now. We have deciduous trees in Australia, but nowhere do we see masses of them. There are seas of leaves in all colors of the cream through yellow and orange to crimson spectrum. And then there's the squirrels, wandering around looking for the acorns that they hid last spring and have since forgotten where they put them.

Back to winter. And an iconic scene in New York. What IS all the hot air? What is the steam that gushes from the red and white candy-themed vertical pipes? It sometimes brings to mind Tom Wolfe's sixties book, "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Steamline Baby", though it was actually "Streamlined" and not steamlined".

The New York steam is vapor produced when underground water hits hot equipment and escapes from beneath the streets or condensed steam leaking from the Con Ed's steam system.

Over 30 billion pounds of steam per year flows underground in Manhattan. It is part of Con Edison's subterranean steam system which has been operating continuously since 1882.

There are five steam plants in Manhattan, and one each in in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. On a cold winter day, nearly 10 million pounds of steam at 350 degrees Fahrenheit flows each hour through 105 miles of underground mains - to efficiently heat high-rise buildings.

When I first came to New York I loved seeing the steam coming out of the red and white pipes. It was like walking onto the set of a movie.

But now it's ho hum. Nothing to even notice, unless I'm taking a tourist friend from Australia around to see the sites.

But the snow.

I'll never tire of it.

I just can't wait till Saturday and the "dust of snow".

1 comment:

T.J. said...

Americans use the word "fall" because it is easier to spell than "autumn"

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