Isabel Swift comments on the Sociology of Snow

February 24, 2010 by in category Blogs tagged as , with 0 and 0
Home > Writing > Blogs > Isabel Swift comments on the Sociology of Snow

After the recent giant snowfall, it suddenly became clear that snow made manifest all kinds of hidden things. It was like dusting for fingerprints. Suddenly, all kinds of things that are normally invisible, marked only in the air, are now marked in… water. And HA! The water is solid. It is snow. Everyone can see every step you have taken, the mark of your foot, the path you have chosen.

And what fascinated me in a city was that it also became a visual declaration of everyone’s relationship with others—their social contract was declared for all to see: upheld, breached, broken. Leaving us to shake our heads. To speculate. To categorize.

Just down the street there’s a house full of “those college kids.” Here are their stairs and front sidewalk:

college.jpg
Yes, true to stereotype no one did anything ever. No effort was made to clear their own stairs—one can imagine the internal dialogue: “I’m cool. I can make it down. Why waste my time making any easier for anyone else?”  

As for sidewalk, the conversation might go, “Public sidewalk you say? Litigation? Hey, I’m not going to have to pay for anything. Someone’s parents would have to ante up if something happens and we’re out of luck.”
Recent addendum: Boys had visitors of the female type after a giant snowfall and were heard to announce loudly as they toiled up the snow covered steps, “Someone stole our shovel!” Good line…!
Then there’s what I call the “Me ‘n’ Mine…but not You.”

college.jpg 
Yes, a carefully cleared personal walkway, but then all bets are off. The sidewalk? No additional effort expended for their fellow man—even though they are going to be walking on it fairly frequently too. The personal pain of shoveling is limited solely to the area of 100% personal gain. Anything that others might benefit from (even though they also benefit) is not effort worthy.
Below we seem to have a No Man’s Land in front of a Gas Station. Perhaps they are not liable? They certainly don’t seem to have made any effort to clear the sidewalk, allowing the path to be created by many feet heading for bus stop, etc.
no mans land.jpg 

I titled the one below “Me ‘n’ You ‘n’ My Car.” Here, the person (I’m thinking guy, but don’t want to be sexist) cares enough about the car to buy it a little outfit, to clear their own stairs, to clear the car’s path AND to clear the public walkway while 
they were at it. Nice, eh?
me n you n my car 2.jpg Below is another ode to one’s car. Someone had not only cleared the sidewalk, and the car, but also created this adorable little path to their Mini. I’ve titled this “Me ‘n’ My Mini.” I thought this especially charming as it may only work once. When they drive off, there’s no guarantee the spot will still be there on their return.  
college.jpg
And just down the road there was the sad sight of a comparatively uncaring and neglectful car owner. Their formerly “hot” new VW Bug lies buried under a heap of snow. No path, no interest, no warm intentions. Can you see how snow has made everyone’s intentions and attitudes almost uncomfortably visible in a way previously invisible to all?
vw.jpg
Some techniques: here’s exactly a one shovel width walkway. Beware people with strollers! You have to back up and find a pull out to allow them to pass, just as if you were a car or trying to get to the bathroom on an airplane! one shovel width.jpg 

Unlike the nearby Gas Station, this stately home and museum (Tudor Place)takes up almost an entire block and they always clear the sidewalk, even though most is just along their garden. (Just discovered their secret: Snow Blower!) The dog walkers and joggers are very appreciative. tudor place litigation.jpg
And of course, if there’s money in it, effort is expended. Commercial establishments tend to have very welcoming sidewalks.  

college.jpg And I haven’t even touched on methodology! The shovelers (elbow grease + muscle power), the sweepers (getting those nooks and crannies), the salters (no expense spared, little effort, maximum result, maximum negative environmental impact). And snow blowers–rare in a city, but I’m much more sympathetic to them than the irritating leaf blowers! Then the participants themselves: the do-it-yourselfers (voluntary and volunteered), the hire-it-outers, the hire-me-please-ers.
So that is my photo essay on the sociology of snow.  For those of you that live snow-deprived lives, this may be a glimpse into a new world. For those whose winter starts in October and ends in May, well this may not go far enough….
Isn’t it fascinating how snow makes people’s attitudes to others, to their possessions, to what they consider “worth their effort” so visible? And while our interpretations may not always be accurate—an owner may be absent, infirm, equipment-less, whatever—I do enjoy speculating! It’s a very character defining act, isn’t it?
Do you live in a city or town? What do you do/not do and why? I’m fascinated!

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