I spent my childhood in the rural “snow belt” of Western New York in the south towns outside Buffalo. Snow was a way of life from October to April most years, and no one experienced a grocery store eggs-bread-and-milk panic unless the projected total accumulation could be measured in feet. Multiple feet. We planned extensively: a few extra cans of non-perishable food would creep into the grocery cart during each shopping trip beginning in autumn, and the cellar pantry would be stocked with summer’s harvest of beans, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and Concord grape juice. There was a wood burning stove in our house in addition to standard heat. A cord of wood had been purchased, split, stacked and was at the ready for cold stretches of winter weather. Trunks of cars had a scraper, a brush, rock salt, antifreeze, washer solvent, and jumper cables at all times. A snow suit and snow boots were as essential as tennis shoes to each school child, and we knew the difference between mittens and gloves and when each…or both…were called for. We were ready, prepared, and in as much control as Mother Nature would allow. Jack London would be proud.
During childhood winters, I had a secret favorite activity. After I had gone sledding, anointed our pet Husky (mostly) dog in snow, made snow angels and snowmen, snow women, and snow pets, and my mittens AND gloves were laden down with hanging threads of ice and snow crystals, I would find a clean spot of untrampled snow. I would dig down as far as I could reach, then dig even deeper by wriggling my fingers toward the unseen frozen earth, until I could see a tiny fleck of green appearing. It was grass. Under all that snow, all that ice, all those winters days and nights, there was still grass. I just needed to catch a glimpse before going inside to warm up. Even in my childhood, I found that sight deeply reassuring.
One winter, I remember that we had added some boards around our front sidewalk to extend a safe place to shovel without disturbing the dirt in the flower garden. It was a hard winter and the snow drifts and ice piled up in that area. One day in early spring, we had a temporary thaw which melted things just enough so that I could sweep away the snow and slowly, deliberately, pull up a huge, solid layer of ice that had gathered across that section of the garden. To my surprise, under that ice layer, there was a crocus about to bloom. It was growing sideways from underneath a board to find a trace of sunlight. Its leaves were whitish-yellowish and in need of sun, but it was there in full perfection with a dazzling bright purple bud ready to pop. I was dumbfounded. It was winter, the ice and snow had been piled on top of a board, all piled on top of this flower bulb. Yet, the flower had pushed through all of that in a singular effort to do what it was genetically programmed to do: to grow, to bloom, to flower.
I checked on my little crocus daily and watched its leaves become greener day by day and its purple flower pop open to reveal its orange-yellow center. All the while, snow was still piled all around. The weather was winter but my little crocus had its own clock of spring that would not be quenched. The power of genetics, potential energy, geothermal warmth, flora desiring to come into full life and reproduce…the science of springtime was my hope for tomorrow. Indeed, recognition of the ability of science and nature to exceed our expectations remains a point of light for me to this very day.