I am not a “Winter person” if there is such a thing. Though I attended high school and college in a snow-rich region, the winter sport bug never bit me. Snow and ice seemed more like inconvenient land mines than charming phenomena for the season. How could I enjoy having to walk slowly and calculated, wet and cold? And I felt more comfortable sailing a boat than even imagining sliding down a ski slope.
If there is a redeeming quality to a Northwest US Winter, it is a relative consistency in the appearance of snow eventually. Here in Zurich, Winter has thus far brought the gloomy gray but spared the snow. Be it La Nina, El Nino, climate change, or Mayan end-of-days, the weather has shifted quickly from miserable and rainy, to miserable and cold, to briefly sunny, to stormy, in the blink of an eye. This week, the first snow fell, causing 100s of traffic accidents in a day. All seemed lost in a fuzzy blur of white. This, too, was short-lived, as La El Mayan Climate Change has done it again.
Within a day, nearly all remnants of the tragic blizzard have melted away everywhere but in the Alps, where there remains a serious danger from avalanches.
I suppose an erratic winter is better than one of eternal cold and a too-shy sun. This schizophrenic Mother Nature allows us to feel as if we are not trapped in this season, and are rather in another place. Where that place is exactly is anyone’s guess.
Switzerland is a place filled with villages and quaint reminders of how things used to be, with traditions lying in state from a reluctant and threatened Alpine people. There are reactions and over-reactions regularly to things over which the Swiss have marginal control. An aging population and limited space makes immigration a necessity yet a problem. A global financial system has created immense Swiss wealth, and also inflated the value of the Swiss currency, crippling exporters. And Mother Nature, which holds wonders in all seasons in lakes, mountains, forests, is changing at a pace the Swiss can notice but not really do anything about.
While I enjoy the lack of snow, its absence signals something else to the Swiss. It signals a lack of revenue from ski resorts left shuttered. It also means water sheds and glaciers aren’t given a proper winter cold. As the world changes with globalization, the Swiss have tried to adapt, and yet participate with their trademark neutrality. “We are Swiss, we maintain who we are, but we will do business with you, world.” But with nature, the adaptation is limited to waiting to see what weather comes in the end. Artificial snow-makers can only defy reality for so long.
The Swiss have so far done well for themselves keeping a niche in a world that has revolted and united in varied ways throughout the centuries. There is no neutrality in the natural world, though. Switzerland has a blessed section of the world in the heart of Europe, and it has worked hard to maintain itself in appearance, tradition and practice. But Swiss precision and work ethic can’t make it snow, and in the long-term, that is anything but a good thing.