Downtown View: The Pleasure of Snowstorms

A friend sent this email as the first January snowstorm was bearing down. “I love this early snowfall,” she wrote. “Can’t wait to get under the feather comforter and feel snug as a bug in a rug.”

Since her next sentence featured Willa Cather, I imagine she was taking a book with her when she got under the comforter.

Feeling cozy has to be part of the charm of snowstorms. If we’re in downtown Boston we have many opportunities for cozy, since we typically do not lose power, we don’t have to drive, we have to shovel only a few feet, and we’re high above the ocean’s fury in either apartment buildings or higher land.

If we have a working fireplace, it’s even better. We won’t run out of staples, since our local groceries remain open, as do our restaurants. Sometimes a friend decides to hold a small party to celebrate the storm and we just go out the door in our boots and clamps and hike over to their home.

Snowstorms are entrancing. Once I was in a cab in Miami when a snowstorm was bearing down on Boston. The driver said, “I bet you’re happy to be away from that and down here where it’s warm.”

I wasn’t feeling that way at all. I was sorry I was missing what I considered exciting, wonderful weather. Warmth is highly over-rated unless it is under the comforter while the snow swirls outside.

The storm is beautiful while it’s swirling, and the flakes cover up all the grunge on the street that Boston is famous for. Even if a car chugs past, the snow muffles the sound, so the city is as quiet as it can get.

For the first day the snow banks are beautiful. Then the dogs poop and pee, the dirt gets churned up, the trash blows around and the scene changes, but for a short time it’s all cold and white.

Offices close. Government workers are told to stay home. The only people who have to go to work are television commentators, hospital staff, snow plow operators, the clerks in our local groceries, the governor and the mayor. The governor appears on the television and asks us all to go home and stay off the roads. And we do.

And that is when a snowstorm is best. We stay home partly because it is cozy. But we also stay off the roads because we understand that is best for ALL of us, even if it is inconvenient individually. That is the meaning of community.

We did it last April too, when Bostonians and residents of surrounding cities were asked to “shelter in place,” a phrase we need to improve on. We did as we were told, not because we were “cowering,” as Arkansas state Rep. Nate Bell characterized it, but because we didn’t want to impede the police from doing their job. We trusted them.

If Bostonians had heard Bell accuse us of cowering, we would have pitied him. He clearly had no idea of what “community” meant—when you behave in a way that is best for everyone, not just for you. That you have trust in your officials. He must not have lived in such a community, and that must make life depressing.

It’s what many of us fear about lots of places in our country—that they are rootless, isolated societies where people don’t know one another and can’t act together, but only in their own interests. But we don’t know if this is true because we’d never move to some place that looked like that.

Soon the novelty of the snowstorm, its beauty and its quiet will transform into slush, ice or high, dirty banks over which we have to climb. We feel sorry for travelers stranded at airports. On narrow streets where the buildings abut the sidewalks, we’ll be walking down the middle because the ice will become like daggers, falling off the roofs. That’s the flip side of snowstorms.

Meanwhile, we’ll light a fire, cuddle up in our comforters, read our books and watch the flakes fall. Life could be worse.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

3 Replies to “Downtown View: The Pleasure of Snowstorms

  1. What a beautiful piece. This is exactly how I feel about snowstorms – I live in the North End, and I can’t think of anything more cozy or more comforting than the feeling of hunkering down inside my apartment during a snowstorm. “…we have many opportunities for cozy, since we typically do not lose power, we don’t have to drive, we have to shovel only a few feet, and we’re high above the ocean’s fury in either apartment buildings or higher land” is how I would describe it exactly. I know how lucky I am. Thank you for your wonderful writing!

  2. The only thing great about snow storms is that it makes our streets look clean for a very short
    time. It is true we did not experience loss of power, which is very fortunate for us, and I feel very
    sorry for those that did, it had to be a nightmare for them. My feelings as a Landlord is that the
    City should remove the snow as they do in the Seaport area. The removal makes it easier for
    seniors to walk, and not feel trapped in their apts, and it makes the Fire & Police Depts. jobs a lot
    easier. The City is on an ALL TIME REVENUE HIGH and small congested areas like the No.End,
    So.End, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, etc. should always have the snow removed because of Safety Issues.
    We the Landlords clean the side walks and then someone cleans their cars off and dumps it on
    our sidewalks again, it isn’t fair. Our Handi-Cap Ramps are an absolute disgrace and when it
    snows it is hard for one to determine where the ramps are. There is a solution to every problem
    and I think the Snow Issue in this City should be addressed for once and for all.

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