By Sophia Goodwin-Rice
“Mom, you’ll never guess what happened at school today. Kids were making snow angels in the frost.”
The year was 2006, I was in first grade, and my family had just moved from Massachusetts to the Oregon coast. The year before, New England had been hit by a ridiculous snowstorm, bringing several feet of snow to our front door and closing public schools and airports for days. In my new home, however, such blizzards were unheard of. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees for most of the year, and instead of a flurry of fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky we got pelted with angry little ice balls of hail. The kids who were making snow angels in the thin layer of frost that coasted the baseball field weren’t just being clueless. Most of them probably had never lived in a place where they saw significant amounts of snow, and were easily excited by anything that closely resembled it. And I wasn’t any better; I might have been a seasoned weather expert at age six, but it didn’t take more than a few years of living on the Oregon coast to start forgetting what actual snow was like, and get excited over a few drops of sleet.
So you can imagine my delight when, a few weeks ago, the snow started to fall on our campus. I’d seen pictures of Willamette in the winter, with its snow-capped brick buildings and cold-looking ducks, and it looked absolutely beautiful. In true western Oregon fashion, however, the snow didn’t stick. Instead, I was able to see the heavily split opinions on campus concerning snow: those who had barely experienced it before, those who were tired of dealing with it and those who really just didn’t care. Being someone who identifies mostly with the first category, it was a little disheartening to have my dreams crushed by those from the second and third. “Why would you even want snow?” some people said. “It’s annoying and gets in the way and it’s way too cold.”
To be fair, these people definitely have a point. In this part of Oregon (eastern Oregon is a completely different story), we are vastly unprepared for winter weather, and even a warning of snow can throw everything off track. In my home county, mere threats of snow and icy roads can merit a school cancellation, and snow on Portland roads can cause traffic, business closings and missed appointments. Oregonians don’t use salt to treat roads (which, while unhealthy for the environment, can greatly improve slippery roads) and don’t quite have enough experience driving in snow to do it properly or without causing long backups and mass confusion. Many Willamette students and staff come from areas where snow is just an everyday part of the winter environment, and if schools and roads closed every time conditions got bad, nothing would ever get done.
Yet that doesn’t mean that snow is always a bad thing. For every member of the Willamette community who calls a snowy place home, there are likely several who look forward to experiencing it possibly for the first time. In the United States, many of us have grown up surrounded by books and movies that show winter as a cold, frosty and slightly magical time, with everything blanketed in soft piles of snow. It’s hard to relate when you live in a desert, someplace with palm trees, or a balmy coastline that mostly just gets rain. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with wanting to experience snow and get to romanticize the winter months just a bit, and there shouldn’t be any shame in being overjoyed by even the smallest amount of flakes falling from the sky. Besides, practice makes perfect, and perhaps if Oregonians get the opportunity to learn the tricks of the “snow culture,” we’ll start to improve.