The winter that never was

Posted: Sunday, March 14, 2010

T his winter, Washington, D.C. has gotten clobbered with over three feet of snow, while Juneau languishes under rain and bare yards. Maybe there's only so much snow to go around for the whole planet, and this year is not our turn. Forget global warming - we'll just call this the winter that never was.

Three years ago I wrote a piece about shoveling the berm, detailing the various methods of clearing away the dreaded berm left at the end of your driveway by the snowplows. Last winter would have been a good chance to re-run that piece. My family takes bets on the date the last bit of snow will disappear from the yard. In the spirit of the Nenana Ice Classic, we have the Barnhill Yard Classic, with $20 riding on the outcome. I won last year with a bet of May 15 - the actual date on which our yard was snow-free was May 17. It's hard to imagine snow on the ground on March 17 this year, let alone May.

I have to say, I'm just as glad I don't have to shovel the berm, especially on a school day. I can't imagine dragging myself out of bed at 7:15 a.m., faced with precisely 38 ½ minutes to rush the kids through breakfast and out the door, only to find a driveway blocked by a mound of snow. As it is, if we spill a glass of orange juice, take a phone call, or do anything extra that takes longer than 47 seconds, we're automatically late. Snow shoveling takes longer than 47 seconds. But the kids don't care. They'd risk getting tardy slips at school - they'd even shovel the berm (if they got paid, of course). They just want it to snow. They want to throw snowballs and make snow forts and go sledding. They want to go skiing.

True confessions: I don't ski. I went skiing once, on a weekend ski trip to Andorra when I was living in France. I probably should have taken lessons. I could slide downhill on these long slats of wood they strapped onto my feet, but I didn't know how to stop. When you're skiing, it really helps to know how to stop.

But I was living in France, remember? The French have this concept, highly valued, of managing for oneself; of getting what one wants in any situation. They call this "le système D," (pronounced "day"). The D stands for "la démerde," which I will not translate literally, as this is a family newspaper. Just think about being up a certain creek without a paddle. Using "le système D" gets you out of that creek. A similar and more acceptable term is "débrouiller," which is how I always thought about it. Really. So I was expected to "débrouille" myself, and figure out how to stop at the bottom of the hill. The obvious solution, which I employed again and again, was to fall down "sur mes fesses"-yup, on my bottom. After a day of sliding and falling, sliding and falling, I'd had enough of skiing. The next day I could hardly walk. A few friends and I found some cardboard boxes and went sledding. I'd call that a successful application of "le système D."

Now I live in Alaska, with a ski resort just down the road, and I still don't ski. What can I say - I'm a wimp. But the lodge at Eaglecrest is lovely, the hot chocolate keeps my hands toasty warm, and there's even a nice hill for sledding, as long as there's snow.

Of course, the risk of writing this kind of column lies in the time lapse between composition and publication. Who knows, it could start snowing tomorrow and not let up for the next couple of months. By the time you read this column, there could be a foot of snow in your yard and a massive berm blocking your driveway. Don't blame me - I'll already look like a fool. Just start your own backyard Ice Classic, break out the sleds and skis, and enjoy a bit of winter.

It looks like it's snowing outside.

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