The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

A Blizzard of Memories

New England winters have often inspired memorable descriptions as the amazing power and beauty of the storms unite. As we remember the Blizzard of ’78, and dig out from Winter Storm Nemo, in March 1820, John Adams wrote to his daughter-in-law, Louisa Catherine Adams, describing the scene he encountered upon waking, following an overnight snowstorm:

If Nature in scattering her bounties had bestowed upon me the genius of a Poet or a Painter I would entertain you with a description of a scene of sublimity, beauty, and novelty, such as eighty four winters never before presented to my sight: when I arose in the morning, the Sun was rising, the heavens were not of Brass but the Sky was a vast concave of clear blue marble and the earth was of burnished silver and the trees bending under the weight of millions of millions of Diamonds. the splendor and glory of the scene was too dazzling for mortal eyes to behold for any long time. A violent rain had descended warm and liquid from a height in the atmosphere into the region below then as cold as Russia, every drop had frozen as it fell, and clung to the trees, and then descending in icicles hung upon every bough and sprig. So much for the bright ride of the picture; now, for the dark side the trees every where bending under the immense load of ice which encumbered them; the trunks in some places splitting; the limbs every where breaking and falling; the elms, the button wood’s, the balm of Gilead’s, stript of many of their branches; the fruit trees, the shrubbery’s, especially the evergreens, very much injured. in short, the havoc and destruction is estimated by many to be greater than in either of the two great storms which have spread such desolation within fifteen years past.

In a letter to his grandson-in-law, John P. De Windt, two days later, Adams summed up the awe-inspiring and sublime moment: “I have seen a Queen of France with eighteen Millions of Livers of diamonds upon her person—and I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to All the glitter of her jewels did not make an impression upon me equal to that presented by every Shrub—”

While large snowstorms often prove troublesome and destructive, we would do well to, like John Adams, stop for a moment and experience the sheer splendor of nature’s power.


permalink | Published: Saturday, 9 February, 2013, 8:00 AM


Mar 19, 2013, 12:27 am

Ellen Martiin

This entry on ice storms is lovely, and a nice instance of the harmony between Adams and his daughter-in-law that you describe on the First Ladies series on C-Span. Thank you for your contributions -- looking forward to reading Louisa Catherine's travel narrative.

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