Eskimos, who after all should know something about the subject, approach snow somewhat differently than the rest of us.
Their language, for example, distinguishes carefully between "ganit," or falling snow, and "aput," snow that's just lying around.
Many words have been used for the snow that fell on Washington last weekend, not all of them printable in a family newspaper.
But the English language fails us by making no semantic acknowledgement that snow, like love, labor and other mysteries affecting the human condition, consists of both ecstasy and grief.
Washington yesterday was a city caught between the two. Many of those out of work and school strolled powder-packed streets, smiling, waving mittened hands and otherwise communing in a cheerful atmosphere of shared adventure.
Others dug out their cars, only to see them promptly reburied by a passing plow.
"Where do I start?" asked Robert Feldman, 26, as he stood at National Airport surrounded by luggage and relatives, two days into a Bahamas honeymoon that hadn't yet happened.
He and his wife Janice, 23, were married Sunday at the Sheraton Park and had never gotten any further.
"I'm transferring to Florida just to get out of problems like this," said Feldman, a shoe salesman at Hahn's. "I'm serious."
Chris Warner, on the other hand, was more philosophical.
Fresh from a week of spring-like skiing at Alta, Utah, he was now returning to his duties on the staff of Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.).
"Delaware got 25 inches and someone has to open up the office..." he said. "I'm legislative assistant for natural resources I guess snow... comes under my jurisdiction."
Along the Mall, cross-country skis and even snowshoes appeared as the outdoor-minded slid and clomped among the monuments.
But in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia it wasn't always that easy. Where was there to walk to?
Vernon D. Sears of Waldorf set out on foot Monday for the convenience store a mile away from his home in the Pinefield subdivision. He went as far as three houses and then gave up.
Marooned and short on food, Sears and his wife and two of their neighbors pooled their supplies and gathered at Sears' home for Monday dinner and Tuesday breakfast.
Together they also surmounted a health crisis: Sears infant was sick and a neighbor was able to provide the medicine prescribed by the doctor.
"It was a scary feeling, knowing we couldn't get out of here," Beth Sears said yesterday. "We kept each other from going crazy."
Throughout the area, residents coped in different ways with varying degrees of isolation. They baked bread, turned down their thermostats to conserve fuel, suffered from cabin fever or enjoyed the quietude, endured hyperactive children and met their neighbors, many for the first time.
From Annandale to Clinton they shoveled driveways that opened into unplowed streets, and in numerous instances shoveled the streets as well in their efforts to reestablish ties to the outside world.
We spent all day (Monday) and all this morning digging out," said Howard Bennett, who showed up with his wife and two children at Tysons Corner yesterday afternoon.
Bennett had been scheduled to report to work at HRB Singer Co. in Reston, where he is quality control manager, but couldn't get to work. Yesterday, he said, "there was probably not that much to control."
Throughout the area, homeowners worried about dwindling fuel supplies and the possible inability of oil deilvery trucks to reach their homes.
Karen Bray, facing unplowed streets in her Hughesville subdivision for another day or so, turned down the house thermostat to 63. In Alexandria, Sidney and Eleanor Keithly turned it down to 55, then shut the furnace off completely to conserve "any kind of heat we have left."
And if the problem wasn't dry fuel tanks it was leaking roofs.
"Everybody's mad as hell," said roofing manager Robert Payne of John G. Webster Co., in Washington. Payne, who answered 80 calls in three hours yesterday morning, said "every roofer in Washington is getting the same call."
"Everybody's ceilings are falling," said Alexandria contractor Otis Light."The water has no place to go but down.'
But there also was a rush on every kind of device for fun in the snow, according to Kevin Morel, assistant manager of Herman's Atlas sporting goods store downtown. Sleds and toboggans, he said, had long since sold out -- and on city streets, the most visible expression was a smile.
There was adventure even in adversity. C.J. Zehring, age 3, was bitten in the face by the family dog, but got a ride to the hospital in the back of a hook and ladder truck and was brought home by two farmers from Nebraska in a pickup.
Meanwhile, in Northwest Washington, Julie Hubbard did not make it to her office near Connecticut Avenue. her husband, however, hitched a ride. "Henry headed into the office with a strange lady," she said, "and I'm home cleaning closets."