Although winter is becoming a wearisome topic, it’s also a good time to look up from where I plant my feet and to observe where the Dutch are planting theirs. Extended periods of winter weather are a rarity in the Low Countries. Snow and ice, when it does appear, is usually gone within a day. As a result, traditional outdoor winter activities like ice skating or sledding are mostly lived vicariously through childhood memories.
Understandably, the first reaction of the Dutch to the onset of Weather is to ignore it. The bicyclists still flow along the paths; the shoppers pull carts to the Albert Heijn. Their concession to the Weather is to seek protection beneath an umbrella, strangely out of place amidst the flurries.
Shopkeepers tackle the snow with squeegees rather than shovels or brooms. The rubber scrapers at the end of long handles make short work of the snow in front of shop entrances, and a sprinkling of salt keeps the entryways clear. I’ve seen deckhands on the passing barges shoving snow off the cargo with the same implements and enthusiasm.
The snow settles into the cobblestones where it can’t be plowed or chipped. Streets become frozen sheets of ice, where both cyclists and cars struggle to stay upright. There is minimal salt and no sand, the weak noon sun is the only removal system in the Wyck this week.
By week’s end, though, everyone is speculating about the prospects for ice skating. The ice needs to be 12 cm thick to support the 11-village race and other marathons to the north. The papers report daily updates on the developing crust on the rivers and canals, and the emergency medical services are keeping busy rescuing skaters who couldn’t wait. The conventional wisdom is that “Ten days of minus ten degrees” will assure a hard freeze and a race.
Halfway there, the anticipation is really starting to build…