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The thaw following the recent sneak snowfalls has transformed Harvard Square into a morass; an oily, black slush is waging an all-out war against man, and winning. What was once snow now looks like low-grade mud, feels like cold porridge, and acts with a diabolical intelligence. This Cambridge variety preys on nice elderly ladies with full shopping bags and weak ankles, lying in wait to capitalize upon the slightest mis-step. Faint yips are all that remain of a dog who attempted to cross the Square; six Volkswagens so far have disappeared into Massachusetts Avenue; and a small child who slipped from his mother's hand and wandered into the street has not been recovered. Considering the urgency of the matter, and the city's inability to meet the threat adequately, we mushed through the ooze to Mother Widener, trusting her for a way out. We asked: What are this enemy's weaknesses, if any? Who is it anyway?
Webster said that snow is crystals of water vapor condensed when the temperature of the air is below 0* C. (32* F.). An aloof and totally unfeeling answer. This is ever Webster's failing when you most need his help.
More promising looking was "On the Snows and Snow Crystals of the winter 1854-1855, as observed at Warrington (England)" by Thomas Glazebrook Rylands Esq. "I know no class of objects so easily accessible by everyone," Mr. Rylands wrote, "which at the same time offers equal attraction, and is capable of affording so large an amount of gratification to all classes of observers." What narrow and unqualified praise Thomas Glazebrook Rylands Esq. permitted himself. He went on to say: ". . . if (this treatise) shall induce more vigiliant attention hereafter to these minute but altogether admirable works of Him who 'giveth snow like wool, and casteth forth His ice like morsels,' it will receive an ample reward."
Shaking out the slush from our shoes (we refuse to admit defeat by wearing boots), we pondered the 19th century's foolish sentimentality and unrealism. Snow's truer character lay revealed in Ukichiro Nakaya's authoritative "Snow Crystals." Besides the run-of-the-mill hexagonal-plane dendritic form crystals, there are spatial dendritic, pyramid and columnar, bullet, needle and graupel types, to mention a handful. Of especial interest was the Tsuzumi type, so named because of its resemblance to a Tsuzumi, a Japanese tom-tom. It is a hard crystal to describe, but picture a Tsuzumi and you nearly have it.
In Nakaya's book we also learned the art of photo-micrography, and how to produce artificial snow and frost. Brilliant pioneer work in the field was done by Olaus Magnus in 1550, by Descartes in 1635, by Robert Hooke in 1665. "Snow Crystals" absorbed us, but we set it aside in time, realizing Nakaya could or would not tell us how to combat the stuff. Other pamphlets and books yielded nothing helpful, until we ran onto "Report on the Problem of Snow Removal in the City of Rochester, N.Y., 1917." "Continuous snow fighting will require the systematic and constant use of the sewers on the main streets." There it was. One sometimes knows instinctively when a thing is right. We knew the sewers would be the answer, if Cambridge would try them.
Snow today is patently not the gentle white blanket Winter spread over the Earth in Granpapa's time. The delicate flakes, banded together like a mob of cunning females, have launched a surprise attack, changed color, and now they press for victory. The men who wrote of Snow's pristine beauty in the past did not foresee the snow of the present, Cambridge snow. The books shout forth a warning, which we must heed, "Use the sewers--or go under!"
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