Stop whining, Washington. Winter rocks!


Embassy of Finland employees posted this photo to Facebook with the message "Snow Day closes embassies?? No way! Our doors are open - you only need a little Finnish snowhow on a day like this!" (Courtesy of Embassy of Finland in Washington)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist February 13

Just stop it.

You were about to say that you’ve had it with winter, right? The kids are home. Again. You ran out of snow melt. You ran out of wine. More Paxil, please!

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“When will this awful winter end?” you whine.

Just stop it. Unless you are homeless or have lost your job because of school closings, you should be embracing this fabulous time of year.

I’m not just talking about mornings like this, when we wake up to a white, sparkly coating of snow. My defense of winter is about more than the magical makeover of cluttered back yards, when the husband’s sawhorse/lumber/whatever project and all the forgotten Nerf guns turn into undulating, beautiful mounds of fluff, when alleys and yellowed lawns and the neighbor’s Camaro on concrete blocks get a blanket of beauty making everything look like an Austrian postcard.

This isn’t going to be an ode to fireplaces and hot chocolate and the giddy joy of spontaneous snowball fights.

I get that it’s the ninth storm of the season, and you’re sick of all the road salt, and the snow gets down someone’s back, then there’s crying, then it all goes muddy.

I want you to hear from people who truly adore the season for other, deeper reasons.

“I love it! I absolutely love it,” said Jerry Stanback, a D.C. native who was giddy as the storm headed our way. “I get up in the big, old truck, and it’s like I own the road.”

Stanback is a shift master for D.C.’s Department of Public Works and, several times a year, captain of the city’s snowplow fleet. When it’s not snowing, he’s making sure the city’s parks and alleys are clean. And sure, people are grateful for rodent control and grass clipping. But nothing compares to the Norse hero status the snowplow gods attain.

“Kids running alongside us, waving, always happy to see me,” he said. His work on those days takes on an urgent importance. And he apologizes that his voice gets a little soft and mushy when he talks about it.

“It’s touching to me. I want you to get home safely. It’s my job, my responsibility to get you to your family,” he said. “That’s deep.”

Winter is a crisp, clarion call to action for many. Think the animals at the National Zoo are all hunkered down and miserable?

“People kept telling me all day how active all the animals are, how they never knew the zoo was so great in the winter,” said Chelsea Grubb, an animal keeper on the American Trail.

Those giant pandas who loll around all Buddha-like in the summer, when crowds flock to see them be couch potatoes? They play and frolic and slide in the snow.

“They tolerate the summer,” one zoo official said.

I’m totally with you on that, Tian Tian. I’m a hideous puddle of misery in August. But come January, I’m like Po the kung fu panda on skis. Just try to keep up.

River otters Niko and Konrad, 14-year-old brothers, have a blast in the winter. They dive into the water, then drip all around their enclosure to create icy little pathways that they slide around on, like little lugers.

The gray wolves play tag; the seals are super-charged.

Grubb, an Arizona native who doesn’t share her animals’ love of winter, is busy. And she’s really trying to love the vigor of the season. She should take a cue from the next guy I met.

“D.C. is a place of muggy, stale air,” said Nathaniel Nash, who has lived on several continents in his 26 years. “But in the winter, the cold frostbite in the air brings a crisp, refreshing urgency to the whole city.”

Okay, this Winter Walt Whitman is a sales guy at the Ski Center in Northwest Washington. So maybe he is a little bit of a ringer.

I talked to Amy Tanen out in the parking lot. She was hoping her flight out of town Thursday wouldn’t be canceled. Was she, like so many of my Facebook friends, apoplectic about missing her flight to Florida or the Caribbean?

“We were going somewhere even colder! Vermont!” said Tanen, a fitness instructor. “All those people sick of the cold? Gimme a break. In three months, they’ll be kvetching about the heat.”

Another thing about flights and winter weather? That’s when all those Congress members the rest of the country sends us flee. What could be better than getting them out of Our Town?

But the pool guy, he must hate winter, right?

“Love it. I love winter,” said Jake, one of the men who service Northern Virginia pools for a company called the Water Boys. “Is this a prank call?” he asked. “I’m not giving you my last name.”

That’s cool, Jake. Your winter-loving secret’s safe with me, bro. “Well, I’m a snowboarder, so I love winter,” he said.

Maybe Jake has some Scandinavian in him. Those guys know how to party in the winter months.

“We really look forward to it,” said Sanna Kangasharju, the press official for the Embassy of Finland in Washington. The embassy is electric whenever snow is in the forecast: “The first comments are always ‘Oh wonderful!’ and ‘It’s coming!’ ” Kangasharju said.

During that last big dump? The Finns put on their blue Finland T-shirts and shoveled the front step, posting their most-popular picture ever on Facebook, all red cheeks and vigor, declaring they’re open for all Finnish business.

“What is this snow day stuff?” she demanded. “We are open!”

I was inspired by their delight and thought maybe some Washingtonians from warm climates have caught winter fever. So I headed to U Street as the snow was falling Wednesday night, where I was sure that I would find African immigrants who have grown to love the crisp air.

At one Ethiopian restaurant, two waitresses looked at each other and raised their eyebrows.

“Is she serious?” one asked.

“No, we don’t like this. At all,” the other said.

I tried shops, a security guard. The same look. At one gas station, the Eritrean American cashier wanted so much to help me. “But I am sorry. My people do not like the winter,” he smiled. “But our kids do!”

Ah, yes, the ultimate connoisseurs of winter: our kids. We’re always telling them to go outside and play. It’s time to stop whining, Washington, and join them.

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