The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 12, 2010

DAVID KNEPPER | Reflections on a winter past


If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

– Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Could there be a glimmer of hope that Old Man Winter has finally gasped his last chilling blast upon our frigid landscape?

There is some consolation in turning the calendar to the month of March for it gives one reassurance knowing spring is but a few weeks away.

But, if my confidence seems too boundless or premature, please allow me to duck when you toss that fresh snowball my way!

Last week, in the wee hours of yet another frigid, dreary day, I was greeted by a “sun cheerless over hills of gray” (Whittier, from “Snow-Bound”). My destination was within sight at the end of my lane, and I quickened my pace to retrieve my newspaper and yesterday’s mail from a mailbox that had been brutalized for so many winters yet did not flinch nor buckle through so many winter storms.

But “what to my wondering eyes should appear” as I flung open the mailbox door but a 2010 Burpee Seed Catalog. That catalog was like a spring tonic, just as stimulating as my grandfather’s sassafras tea, which he swore would make your blood rise in the spring like the sap in a tree.

Now inside the comfort of my living room, I began to first scan the front page stories of my morning companion, The Tribune-Democrat. The headlines to the “Just Awful” winter story caught my eye. Then I remembered that today was March 2, with only two more weeks remaining of Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of six more weeks.

I had already stuffed my winter companions – “groans, gripes, and growls,” – inside a Mason jar tossed into one of the many snowdrifts in my back yard for a long winter’s sleep.

After performing this mock funeral service, I observed that the days just seem to become less cold, dark and nasty – perhaps my cold medicine was causing me to hallucinate!

Then it hit me. I remembered the words of Jacob Marley when he rebukes Scrooge for being so self-important and heartless:

“Mankind should be our business, Ebenezer, but we seldom attend to it.”

In this protracted winter season, many in our communities were making a difference by reaching out to the less fortunate among us. It was so noticeable in the generosity of volunteers who, by their caring and loving spirit, bring comfort to the less fortunate who too often go to bed hungry, or to that elderly neighbor who needed his driveway cleared of snow, or to that family that needed shelter when power failure was experienced.

Finally, we should never forget the dedication of our highway crews, both municipal and state, that worked tirelessly 24/7 to keep our roads plowed and salted.

Likewise, I often take for granted the newspaper carriers, such as Linda, whose reassuring car tracks left their imprint in the fresh early-morning snow to let me know that my paper had been delivered.

Also, too, let’s salute the local postmasters, such as Dave in Sidman, who exemplify that motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Could we ever imagine that a truce with Old Man Winter might be consummated so that next year his fury might not be as unbridled as it was this year?

I would recommend, however, that such a truce not be negotiated by a delegation of ski enthusiasts, nor by school students who seem not to mind a delay in the opening of classes or an early-out during inclement weather.

So let us spring forward now, confident that the record snowfall was just an aberration and not a regular occurrence.

Let’s hang up the snow shovels and replace them with garden spades and rakes.

And, if we are really so energetic and so ready for new challenges in moving this region forward, let’s do as Donald Robinson suggested in his recent letter to the newspaper’s editor – that “we need to pull together across the community and come up with a common vision and plan to help ourselves.”

Now that we have the increased stamina for pushing snow, we might want to consider pushing folks to get involved in their communities.

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State.