Friday, February 15, 2019

Snow Brings Out the Best in People

Many of us will mourn the loss of the snow over the region:  the ethereal beauty of the snow-covered landscape, the quietness and reduction of noise, and the excuse to disengage from the pressures of normal life.

But there is something else we will miss:  the softening of human interactions, the smiles with passing strangers, and the bonds of facing a common environmental challenge.

I experienced it during one of the early days of the snowstorm:  as I walked through the snow-clogged streets to the local supermarket, nearly everyone would smile and make a few friendly remarks--even to total strangers.  Neighbors were out in the street talking and helping each other dig out cars.  For a moment, the barriers between people had dropped.  It was wonderful.


In my neighborhood we were trapped by steep snow and ice covered hills.  On Saturday, a message went out to the local list serve...why don't we dig ourselves out?  A few hours later, over 30 residents of all ages and backgrounds started work on the steepest sections, and one even brought fresh-baked cookies for the workers.  People worked hard to open up the roads, some they would never use.  In a few hours, our neighborhood's roads were in good enough shape to give us our freedom.  But it gave us more:  as sense of community and mutual caring.

Neighbors working together on Saturday

I saw one individual not only clear the sidewalk of his own house, but did so for a whole block, and another kind individual, with a large bag of salt, worked to improve the condition of the sidewalks and steps of his neighbors.

And yes, there were long lines at food stores--but did you notice the attitudes?  There was little complaint about the wait and folks talked amiably to strangers in line.  I didn't see any anger, frustration or cutting in lines.  Folks thanked the supermarket staff for making it in and working long hours. We were all facing the snow together. And if we didn't get our favorite loaf of bread, we were pleased to get what we could.

Patience and no complaining on the food store lines

There are so many other examples.  People would get stuck in the snow and complete strangers would jump out of their cars to push them out of trouble. Others got food to the homebound or tried to help some of our homeless folks.

For a moment in time, it did matter where you were on the political spectrum, or your ethnic background, religious affiliation, or anything else.  We were all in this together and dependent on each other to get through it.   We were all in awe of the power and beauty of the natural world.

There was a spirit of kindness, caring, and camaraderie.  And few made fun of meteorologists.

I am going to miss it.



41 comments:

John K. said...

Of course it brings up the age-old rhetorical question.. why isn't this the norm? We could be helping each other in thousands of ways each day, but we choose not to. Why is that?

Jeff Ryan said...

I don't see any reason why you will not see this type of warmth and kindness in the people you encounter after the snow is gone. If you continue to expect this, it should continue to be what you find.

not a snowflake said...

Insightful and uplifting. Thank you.

Unknown said...

Amen to that. Total strangers pulled my car out of the snow with their truck yesterday and it made my day. Cbc recently lauded people who spend 3 hours digging out a strangers car as "true Canadians".

Estoy_Listo said...

Well said, Cliff. Thanks.

Trevinski said...

Yeah. I experienced a lot of this as well. I think the desire to help is latent in all of us, but these situations provide us with a a greater and more readily available opportunity to do so. Perhaps there's a growing recognition (hopefully) that we're all part of a larger human family that needs to coexist and steward things accordingly.

Unknown said...

When you are in a line to buy something, and another person is behind you, consider quietly telling the clerk that you are going to pay a small portion towards the next person's purchase. It could be a cup of coffee, etc.

Regards

Richard Meeks said...

I agree, but the sense of community becomes more apparent when it gets activated by the call for cooperation which adversity often brings. I live aboard a cruising sailboat in a marina where I relish the frequent reminders of this spirit of community ["gemeinschaftsgefuhl"]. It can be called out without that adversity if we are mindful that it is lying in wait all around us. Thank you for this, Cliff. We need reminders of the "better angels of our selves".

Unknown said...

Typo in 3rd-to-last paragraph:
"...it did matter where you were on the political spectrum..."
Sorry to point that out - I really want to thank you and praise you. The snow brought me to your blog, and I'm grateful.

Eric Blair said...

The kindness is always there, sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it. When I volunteer at community clean ups in my neighborhood I regularly experience this attitude.

Mark Allyn said...

There's a video floating around of some people snowboarding down Alabama Hill here in Bellingham, which I thought is a wonderful touch.

Also, since my bicycle is not safe in the snow, I have been walking everywhere, averaging about 4 to 5 miles walking per day. That has been the greatest benefit to me.

Unknown said...

This is a side tangent, but I noticed (in my neighborhood) that the same people who do very little to zero yard maintenance (no raking leaves during the fall, no keeping sidewalks clear of their overgrown parking strip plants, no mowing their lawn) were the same people who "obsessed" with keeping every snowflake off their sidewalk and entry walkway during the snow storm. Odd to me. Anyone else notice that?

Annie said...

Beautiful, made my heart feel good to read your words.

Rowan Peterson said...

Thanks for saying this. I've been feeling the same up in Bellingham. Do we need more natural disasters?

Unknown said...

I have seen this happen many times in similar circumstances. The fact that we are all facing a common problem "opens" the door for communication and cooperation without having to find that common ground. I think that is one of the reasons we find it so much easier to do under these circumstances. Yes, we should try to do this without the need for this but people just find it harder to come out of their shell. Additionally, the snow made us all slow down - there was no reason to hurry as we couldn't really go anywhere so why not talk to your neighbor?

Candy B said...

Yup. The neighborhood kids helped me shovel out the driveway. They were taking a short break they said from sledding, snowman building, and snow tunnel making. Kind kids of our future.

Twinkle said...

It is very uplifting to experience the camaraderie that develops in a community that's caught in unusual circumstances. On the other hand, it would be beneficial to hunker down and relax without a call to immediate action in an effort to fight nature. In areas where unusually big snow storms happen (every 8-10 years) we could play along with nature and wait for conditions to improve. The improved weather forecasting generally gives one the chance to stock on food before a bad storm. Our concern could be focused on making routes available for access to medical care and rescue the homeless. What's the worst the can happen if we work along with nature instead of against it?

DawgfatherJr said...

Hey Dr. Mass! Former student of yours here. I saw that Holly J. lives in your neighborhood because I saw a pic of her during said neighborhood shovel-out day where she mentioned you. She's part of our UW tailgate family, so if you ever come to a Husky football game, please stop by!

Ann Linnea said...

Thank you. Exactly the same kinds of stories can be told from those of us on Whidbey Island. Very heartwarming, if not toe numbing time. Ann Linnea, longtime COCORAHS reporter

Ansel said...

Yes, It's true, I visited more with neighbors than usual. Wednesday night one family had a fire in the driveway and were handing out hot chocolates. And I help unstick a couple of cars.

Off topic, anyone care to critique my analysis of the weather dynamics:

Normally in an El Nino, the jet stream splits, California gets their rain, and the northern branch of the jet protects us from the arctic front, keeping us in an intermediate dry zone. But this time, there seems to be no split in the jet: California still gets their rain, but we are unprotected from the subarctic. Hence the snow and abnormally cold weather. Correct?

Ward said...

Super post, Cliff! Thanks for posting that!

John Marshall said...

It's nice to see a visible sense of community even in the Seattle area, but banding together to support the common good in times of crisis goes back to the origin of our species. It's one of several reasons we are such a successful species. The tougher things are, the closer we band together.

It's only because of the way many of us choose to live isolated lives in overly large communities and/or experience the world through glowing screens that makes this kind of thing seem special. It shouldn't be.

I grew up in a small town and knowing all our neighbors and helping them, and being helped in return, was considered completely normal. All the time. Which is why I live in a small community located near a smallish town on the Olympic Peninsula today. Shouldn't need a crisis or emergency to help a neighbor. Some things should never have changed, even for day-to-day things.

Thankfully, in some places they haven't changed. Trick is to find and live in those places.

Wes Crago said...

Well said, Cliff.
Long-time reader from Ephrata, WA. I work for the City and am pretty involved with everything. We had a pretty decent blizzard on Saturday followed up by "aftershocks" until early this morning. It felt like the entire town was outside after each snowfall helping one another, moving berms, etc. The whole community pulls together to help; from police and fire, to plows and volunteers.

Bob Triggs said...

One of my neighbors, who owns an excavation company, went around the community, all week, with one of his machines, digging out everyone's driveways. He refused any payment. But hot coffee and fresh baked cookies did abound. He's a local hero now. When I was a kid, growing up in the snow country of New York and New England, I made a pretty good buck, shoveling out the neighbor's walkways, porch steps, driveways, etc. I had a five gallon bucket full of sand and rock salt mix, a snow shovel, and as broom. I would go to town and clear the sidewalks and entryways of many of the shops. The delis, bakeries and coffee shops would pay me, and feed me too. There was always a few people who's steps, walkways etc., we would just go ahead and keep cleared, with no expectations of being paid. We knew they couldn't afford it. And some were shut-ins, with visiting nurses, caregivers, etc., coming around every day. Lots of cookies would appear. We took care of each other. That's how we should be living all of the time.

LOONA said...

I live out in the woods near Port Townsend. I remember when I lived in NYC, what you write of here happened all the time. Out here in the woods I ran into my neighbors when hiking down our impassable road to the mailbox. We would say hi or chat but no one will pitch in to clear the snow. I was hoping we could get together and help ourselves. It's way too much for one person. But if we did it together it would not be that bad. But I guess, none of own snow shovels and the stores don't have any either. So we struggle we stay stuck, even now. And the road....

Unknown said...

Beautiful!

Lori said...

I’ve been working throughout the snowy time, driving on the freeways, main roads, and even, when I couldn’t avoid it, side roads. A very very big difference—very few other cars on the road. Literally 100 ft between me and any other cars, no traffic jams and definitely nobody trying to push anyone else to speed up!
I wonder if some of it has been not having to fight traffic every day. Everyone has been so relaxed and pleasant I wish it could continue!

Bruce Philbrick said...

Perhaps, in this era of being so connected electronically but out of touch in other ways, people are hungry for an opportunity to relate to one another. A snowfall helps to create that because it is a shared experience for us all.

Unknown said...

Expect nothijg. Appreciate everything. God, I hate sayings like this

MAC in Bellingham said...

Cliff's Thoreauean description of the collective effort of his Seattle neighbors was - how shall I say this - unexpected. If he is not careful, he might lose some of his audience by this foray into progressive egalitarianism. Seriously, it was a nice narrative. I lived and worked in a Seattle residential neighborhood for 25 years without really getting to know my neighbors. But having retired and moved to Bellingham, we find ourselves socializing and having potlucks with our neighbors all the time.

But I think part of the lesson of Cliff's story is the snow was not a catastrophe because it was manageable with some modest and joint manual effort. If the worst you can say is you could not get your favorite artisan bread from your local grocery, that is pretty tame by catastrophe standards.

Our economic system is pretty much built on just-in-time systems, so it does not take much of an interruption for you to lose fuel, goods, and services. JIT is done for a reason. It saves costs, which everyone wants, but if the future we have in store are Camp Fire events or three feet of water in your Miami home, it is going to take a lot more than this. You only have to look at history to see how quickly systems can degrade in the face of pressures for which they were not designed.

lisa.spreacker said...

Why don't you?

Jim said...

Great post Cliff, with some fine insight to human nature.

Jetmechanicdave said...

Cliff you are a true icon to us weather freaks. I hope one day I can meet you. My friend Wolf of whom inspired me to love weather back in 1979 when we were kids knows you and he said you helped him with his degree. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Be well

Brendan said...

You live in a different world than I do. For me, the snow meant increased stress at work because it was dangerous to travel and there was a lot of overtime to make up for all the sick call ins. Because I took the bus and train, I had to take emergency routes that were clogged with homeless people freezing to death. Someone literally died at a train station.

The snow only further reminds me that we live in a two tiered society, one where the privelaged live off of the backs of the exploited, where people are dying on the street while others are frolicking in the snow, blissfully unaware.

K. Baker said...

Thank you! As I would walk around my neighborhood and see people shoveling their own piece of sidewalk (in my neighborhood, no one was doing anymore than their own), only to see it covered again hours later, I couldn't help but think "go get your family and head to the park for sledding!" Or "go inside and make cocoa for the kids!" It was only 3.5 days for most of us and two of those days were Saturday and Sunday, yet no one could simply just rest and let nature take its course. Strange.

Sahila said...

thanks Brendan, for putting the other side of the coin on the table here....

DH said...

What a wonderul few days. Wish we could look forward to this wintery experience every year here in the great NW. Its rarity is one of the reasons snow is so special. Yes, there are others who do not have the same experience. Maybe those who struggle every day and the snow had different meaning. But the joy that was expressed in Cliff's post was still very real. I choose to be thankful when given the opportunity.

Unknown said...

I love how light hearted this blog remains. Makes me wish I could find the perfect little farmhouse with room for a large garden and a few fruit trees and a swimming pool or hot tub, in the country somewhere...Overall I think people who live in smaller towns or (out in the sticks) are generally happier, healthier, friendlier, caring folks, with a good sense of values and morals. Life is good. Life is shorter than we ever expect it to be. Everyone should learn to relax and enjoy Life right now, before its too late! Peace,Lana

Gpacharlie said...

I have always experienced this daily in life. Probably because of physical challenges and because others who are challenged, well we notice each other and take a little extra time to say hi and listen. Snow storms and windstorms and Seahawks games bring this out in people and it’s always fun for me to enjoy the atmosphere. Thanks Cliff for sharing your heart.

Gpacharlie said...

and then you realized that you could bring a little comfort to those less fortunate and now are going out every couple of days with comfort items for homeless people, right?

Serge said...

Thank you, Clif! It's so nice that people unite and help each other, even strangers. Now everyone is talking about global climate change and the cataclysms associated with them. If you look at what is happening on our planet, then you start to believe it. I am sure that humanity will be able to survive if they unite and solve all the problems together. Your example shows that this is possible even on the scale of the entire planet because people are alike everywhere. It is joyful and very inspiring. I think every person has lots of such examples, we just do not pay attention to them. If all people share such good examples, and we can do it easily with the help of social networks, then society will change from consumer to creative. Thanks a lot!