Lake effect snow

Winter lambing, oil on linen, 30X40, $5072 framed, includes shipping and handling in continental US.

My home town of Buffalo, NY is the most famous lake-effect snow city in North America, but it’s hardly unique. Erie (PA), Rochester, Syracuse, and the small city of Oswego regularly get buried in snow. The Great Lakes are very deep, so they don’t freeze solid in winter. Arctic air sweeps across them, picking up moisture that then drops in deep blankets onshore. I miss those blizzards very much.

There are other, smaller snow plumes that are not as well known. One of these is in Orleans County, New York. I spent two decades driving weekly from my mom’s house in Niagara County to my house in Rochester. That took me straight through the Orleans snow belt.

Wind sculpted snow in Orleans County, NY.

As my children can recite by heart, you don’t drive in snow country without a candle and matches, bottled water, a chocolate bar, car blanket and collapsible shovel. People have frozen to death in their cars in Buffalo.

The drifts that formed the basis of ‘Winter Lambing’.

It was on a bitter winter afternoon that I found myself flagged down by an Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputy. She directed me around an accident and warned me that the road ahead was barely passable. The wind was whistling along the long, flat fields of the Niagara-Orleans lake plains. There, wind can pick up already-fallen snow, reducing visibility, and driving it into drifts as hard as cement. When these form across a road, your steering wheel can be wrested right from your hands. Road salt doesn’t work in extreme cold, which is perilous in icy conditions.

Bad parking job.

I’m an old hand at winter driving, but I slowed right down. At one point, I stopped entirely, which is when I saw the drifts above. At the time, I was thinking through a solo show at Davison Gallery at Roberts Wesleyan College called God + Man: Paintings by Carol L. Douglas, about which I wrote last week.

James Herriot wrote about the bone-chilling work of the Yorkshire veterinarian, particularly the grueling task of lambing during blizzards on the high Dales. Not only were shepherd and veterinarian at risk, but newborn lambs were in danger of freezing or predation.

I wanted to paint that feeling of intense cold at high elevations. At first glance, viewers see these shapes as mountains; it’s only when I tell them the backstory that they realize they were a series of drifts just a few feet tall. Context is everything when it comes to reading a painting, and the artist has lots of latitude in repurposing reference pictures.

It might look soft, but that stuff is hard as cement.

God + Man was about the relationship of God and man in the natural world. This painting was based on Isaiah 1:18, which says: “Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”

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3 Replies to “Lake effect snow”

  1. I’m from Buffalo and I DON’T miss the blizzards! I love how you zeroed in on those small drifts, they certainly look like mountains.

  2. you miss blizzards? Blizzards. Not… Gently falling snow, not waking up to a morning with trees covered in white. Not holidays that look like Courier and Ives cards. Blizzards. You know, I used to live in Cleveland, and I promise you one of the things I absolutely do not miss about living there was the lake effect and the resulting freezing rain, and, yes, blizzards. I mean to each his own… and I love you anyway, but… But that’s strange, my friend. 😉

    1. You didn’t grow up with snow days. The bus doesn’t show up, you spend the whole day in your PJs. For adults the equivalent is a travel ban, which means you can’t go to work. You sit by the woodstove and read, or draw, or play your tuba, but you’re isolated in your own world of swirling white beauty.

      If it’s bitter outside, the humid air will make a tracery of ice on the insides of your windows that is more magical than the finest lace.

      When it finally stops you go out and marvel about how deep it is, and how high the drifts are (in a famous blizzard in 1977 in Buffalo, they were roof-high). Then you go out and fire up the snowblower and cut a neat channel through the drifts that eventually reties you to the world, and it’s reluctantly back to reality for you.

      Oh, and before it even snows, everyone goes to the grocery store and buys, yes, bread and milk. I have no idea why but those shelves are always empty.

      BTW, it was 14 degrees here this morning. Still beautiful on top of Beech Hill.

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