Consolations of a New England Winter

03/06/2015 05:53 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015

A New England winter's compensations? I'm so fed up with it now that making this list took strenuous self-hypnosis.

First, of course, there's the beauty and quiet. For brief stretches, all seems sinless, albeit with intimations of a monochromatic death. Of course, you might also hear cursing as people fight over a parking lot's sole remaining space amidst six-foot-high piles of dirty snow.

To me, the two best winter pleasures are 1) walking at night, with a soft snow falling straight down in big fat flakes and 2) on a bright still morning right after a snowstorm, with almost blinding sunlight. My fondest memories of this season, which too many persist in calling "character-building,'' are from living in New Hampshire in the mid and late '60s. The sun on the snow was an anti-depressant, especially after drab November.

A crucial aspect to enjoying a snowscape is lack of wind. That's why you should stay away from our coastal cities, damp and exposed to the gales of offshore storms. Head inland.

Walking down a street in Boston or Providence on a winter's day with a northwest gale is advanced masochism. I'd rather stroll on the same day in, say, Windsor, Vt. (where J.D. Salinger used to regularly eat in a diner), in the Connecticut Valley. Clean, dry and open, but with the worst of the wind blocked by the hills to the west. Very different from the narrow, clogged and frozen-slush streets of Providence and Boston, which weren't designed for thousands of cars.

Then there's late-winter "spring skiing." In the sun the air finally seems warm, the corn snow bouncy and soft and the air fragrant with wood smoke from the chimney of the base lodge. After a day on the slopes, a rich languor falls over you.

Another New England winter asset is liquid. The snowpack helps ensure that our region will have plenty of water to get through the year. New Englanders underestimate just what a valuable resource this, and how lacking it is in most of the Sunbelt. Of course, we could do much more with it, especially with hydro-electric power.

Winter also forces innovation. That may be why the Northeast continues to be America's richest region. Consider the subway systems of Boston and New York. The Great Blizzard of 1888, which paralyzed the Northeast for weeks, helped lead Boston to create America's first subway system, followed soon by New York. The MBTA mess from the recent blizzards should not obscure that having such a public-transit system has been a huge boon to the New England economy.

Cold winters also reduce the incidence of many diseases. Microbes prefer warmer climates. The healthier states are the colder ones, although we associate cold winters with the flu and colds.

Anyway, about now you notice that car interiors are warming up faster in the stronger sun, you hear the morning music of birds you haven't heard for months and see that the buds on the trees are swelling as the light lengthens.

Signs of future life and warmth just as you're getting violent. Still, all in all, this year I'd rather be in Florida about now. Actually, North Carolina would do.

Late winter reminds me of what we used to say on my cross-country running team in high school: "It feels so good when you stop.''


In other weather news, we have Wei-Hock Soon, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, another poster boy for the economics of "expert opinion.'' See here.

Mr. Soon preaches that our burning ever-increasing amounts of fossil fuel isn't the main culprit in global warming. Most scientists disagree with him. But then most scientists haven't received, as he has, $1.2 million in fossil-fuel industry funds in the last decade without disclosing it in most of his scientific papers. In the same way certain "public-policy think tanks'' are well compensated to promote positions that support certain industries.

The Times reported that, in correspondence with his corporate funders, he called many of his papers and testimony to Congress "deliverables.'' A deal is a deal!

Robert Whitcomb ( is a partner at Cambridge Management Group (, a healthcare-sector consultancy, a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, a former Wall Street Journal editor and a former editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal, where this column first ran and where he is a bi-weekly essayist.