Buffalo Soldiers This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

February 15, 2011
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The sky and the ground melt into a single, unbroken plane, blended like charcoal on a fresh sheet of paper. Wind pushing off the lake shoves great globs of gray clouds across the paler-gray sky. Every inch of the ground shivers with snow. Traffic is stopped along Interstate 90, a necklace of headlights winding away into the 7 a.m. horizon. The roads are clotted with ice, successfully stopping the arteries of the county. If we are lucky, we will make it to our destination in an hour.

Lake effect snow tightens its white-knuckled fist, taking control of western New York once again. Buffalo Lock-Jaw takes over as travelers hurry down the slushy streets, clad in wool and down overcoats, tough-as-nails snow boots, and trapper hats. Thick scarves wind around their throats so many times that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish these walkers as human. Gloved hands are shoved deep in pockets. They hurry along, burrowed in the warmth of their layers. No one stops to speak; the only sound is the slur of car tires on ice-slush roadways, not yet salted.

Buffalo becomes a mess of gray and white as even cars and trees are covered, buried in deep clouds of white. Along the side of the roads, plow-pushed snow becomes deepest black. Thick, stocky evergreens and sturdy houses patiently bear the brunt of the thickest layers.

For 17 winters, this has been my world. A winter wonderland gone to dangerous extremes, where cars become stuck for 24 hours on thruways and even walking is treacherous. Like those who have grown up in the Amazon learn their way through jungles and rivers on foot and in dug-out canoes, I have learned how to trek through knee-high and hip-deep snow in three layers of clothing and clumsy boots, barely able to see through freezing wind and flying snow.

Most of my early driving experience was performed on icy streets and snow-drifted thoroughfares in a huge, four-wheel drive Ford, my knuckles as white as the snow outside on the steering wheel. I have had to learn much about winter, growing up in Buffalo. The way the color of the sky changes just before a storm, the meaning of the orange tint of the clouds late at night, how to endure blizzard conditions with no electricity for days. Small tastes of hardship, yes. Miniscule, compared to some. Yet being cold-grown has its advantages.

Coping with sub-zero temperatures and wind so strong that it's difficult to walk, has built my perseverance. It takes determination to get where you need to go in thick, white voids. The simplest tasks become difficult, making it almost impossible to complete the everyday. Living in Buffalo has acclimated me to weather that can change in minutes. Rain one moment, snow the next, 50-mile-per-hour winds by the end of the day.

The weather in Buffalo has forced me to become versatile, ready to alter my plans at a moment's notice. The saying, “Expect the best but prepare for the worst,” is a survival skill, a skill one needs to perfect in order to retain some semblance of sanity. Buffalo turns out hardy representatives who know how to handle anything thrown at them: curveballs, snowballs, even avalanches.

Patience, versatility, determination, resiliency, diligence, and the ability to learn quickly are traits earned through the bitter cold months of winters in western New York. While I will soon shed my thick winter skin for milder climates and less snow-bound winters, I will forever carry these hard-earned traits as memory of years gone by.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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