Winter 2015 The NNY Life

Take a deep breath, it’s just  another north country winter

By Katie Stokes

Columnist, Katie Stokes

Columnist, Katie Stokes

A few weeks ago when the 2015 “Snowmageddon” was barreling toward New York City, I had to do a double take when I saw people were fleeing their burroughs because it was predicted that the city could get up to two feet of snow.

OK, I thought. Do not do this. Do not get all judgmental about the snow. I have managed to avoid smarminess about other regions’ ideas of “cold” and “snowy” for years. I’ve experienced the misery of two weeks without power because of a scrim of ice accumulation in rural Oklahoma. I know we Northern New Yorkers live on a whole different level of winter emergency preparedness, because we have to.

I thought of my young cousin, who lives in Brooklyn, and I thought of the fact that she does not have a garage-warmed vehicle to drive to work, and that she must walk or take public transportation everywhere.

I thought of the homeless population that would be crowding into shelters, of the stories we’d hear on the news — a person who was caught, somehow, in a strange place, like an ATM vestibule, when the power went out, and how that person was stranded for, I don’t know, minutes before someone helped them.

It didn’t work. I was judging and judging and judging.

Winters in the north country don’t just suck sometimes. We actually batten down the hatches because snowstorms on the scale of blizzards hit us. Winters here stink on a whole different kind of scale where the standard definition of blizzard doesn’t even apply. I mean, if we used the term blizzard for every heavy snowfall or sustained wind that carried lake-effect snow, the word just wouldn’t have any meaning anymore.

We could probably get away with coming up with new words to describe our lake-effect blizzards. Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow, why can’t we invent some new ways to express the humdrum horror of living with the results of weather patterns in the Bermuda Triangle of winter?

I guess the reason the “blizzard” hype annoyed me so much this time around is because, with our second humdinger of a winter in two years only half over, I’ve noticed the once-positively woolen fabric of my patience with the lack of family opportunities in this community getting incredibly threadbare. I’ve made so much of my own sunshine that I’ve whittled myself down to a white dwarf.

The way I see it, Northern New York culture is built around its truly inspiring summers, and our capacity to endure some of the worst winters in the world so we can get to enjoy some of the best summers in the world.

But did you ever wonder if those June-through-October months feel like such a euphoric rush only because our way of enduring winter is just too stoic? Winters here are the WORST. This is not hyperbole. WE LAUGH AT PEOPLE WHO ARE AFRAID OF BLIZZARDS.

The toughness we cultivate by living in such a bleak environment is valuable, certainly. That “can-do” attitude is something that will take each of us quite far in pretty much any aspect of life. In fact, resilience, a parenting buzzword for 2015, by the way, is something everyone in my generation could use more of.

My question is when does “put our heads down and deal” stop being resilience, and start being denial?

There’s nothing we can do about the weather, but there is something we can do about the way we live through it. Consider how blissful life could be if we found a way to make January through May a little less bleak.

There are more restaurants and bars per capita here than in most cities this size, but for the size of our local population, there are far too few places for a family of four to recreate indoors on a frigid or rainy day. I don’t want anymore LOOK HOW AMAZING AND TOUGH WE ARE. I want something to do with my young children when it’s 20 degrees below zero and we literally cannot go outdoors for more than a few minutes. No, really, we’ve tried. Let’s just say I have a superb understanding of what frostbite actually looks like and how difficult it really is to get when you’re paying attention.

I’ve been sometimes patiently waiting for the communities in this region to do something about this for nearly 15 years. But after this second batch of weekly “blizzards,” it’s become more than a little irritating that not only are we stuck inside — we’re stuck inside our house.

If you, like some local leaders I’ve spoken with about this, think there is not a market for a new, clean, well-run indoor recreation business like a trampoline park, a small indoor water park, or a recreational rock-climbing facility, I would like to invite you to go to your local McDonald’s PlayPlace on a cold or rainy day and try to find a spot to eat your McNuggets.

Indoor recreation is a need that is not being seriously addressed. Aside from updating the City of Watertown’s ice arena — bravo Watertown, it’s certainly time —there have been no significant investments in a place for kids and families to MOVE in the winter.

We’ve figured out how to get to work in winter. It’s time to figure out how to get happy in winter.

Katie Stokes is an Oklahoma native who has called Northern New York home for more than a decade. She is a freelance writer and blogger and the mother of two children, Diva and Hunk. She and her husband are raising their children in Hounsfield. Visit her blog at Her column appears in every issue of NNY Living.

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