*This one is an oldie, but a goodie. It was first published in the Concord Monitor a few years ago, but every year it's relevant.
A Sad Season for Mailboxes
As I drive the bleak and barren late-winter roads of New Hampshire, I note the battered boxes that sprout from the snow like tulips in the spring. Bright plastic, rusting metal, weathered wood with stems of the same, poking their heads through the icy banks ready to receive the day’s correspondence. Some are adorned with hand painted petals or with flags wrapped over their arches frozen mid-flutter, labeled with reflective numbers, glossy names, or simple initials. They mark our driveways, serve as directional landmarks, and receive our letters, Value Pak Mailers, and newspapers. They are personalized communication portals that take every shape and size.
The day we moved into our house, we planted our own mailbox. We called our town post office and obtained the proper installation requirements. We measured its height and its distance from the road, double-checking our calculations for accuracy. We drove the sturdy wood post into our newly purchased earth, staking our claim. We mounted the burnished black box, gingerly aligning our house numbers, declaring the property our own. My husband and I stood back admiring our work, confident in the strength of our new monument. It wasn’t until the brittle leaves of autumn were concealed by snow that we discovered its vulnerability, finding it decapitated by a merciless plow. Scratching our heads we looked up and down the street for the culprit, but only tire tracks and deep, dragging claw marks remained.
Each year, the harsh New England winter rolls out its heavy blanket of white, suffocating the Northeast. Dustings turn to inches, inches to feet. The once delicate snowflakes, awe-inspiring in early December, now break the sturdy backs of trees, bending them until their needled limbs brush the ground. Town workers fire up their plow trucks, rousting the sleeping dinosaurs from their municipal caves. The rumblings of diesel engines vibrate through the crisp air. Waves of trucks deploy into the night with their menacing headlights cutting through the darkness. Heavy, thundering blades scrape through the ice and snow, sparking against the asphalt, and pushing the snow into long, gelid banks. They clear winter’s baggage from our streets, freeing us to commute to work and school, but they also demolish every obstacle in their path, including our unsuspecting mailboxes, with depraved indifference. Fractured posts and bent poles leave mailboxes lying like fallen soldiers on the battlefield: crumpled, mouths agape, spilling their soggy entrails. Personal letters and packages lay strewn about, soaking wet, stained by dirt and salt. The markings blur as the ink bleeds and washes away. Residents desperately try to salvage their mail, shaking their heads in disgust as they dig it out of the snow banks and brush off the frozen debris.
New Englanders have become accustomed to the snowplow’s brutality and have adapted to its cruel wrath, splinting and bandaging their wounded mailboxes, limping them through until spring. Beheaded boxes are perched precariously on their posts and speared into snow banks. They wobble in the wind and slide into ditches with the first thaw. They are resecured with a few more screws for good measure, but the winters here are long and the snowplows are diligent, leaving even the most determined mailbox doctor cursing the plow’s ruthless efficiency. Some defeated citizens decide to forgo postal privileges in the interest of preserving sanity. The once beloved mailbox is abandoned where it fell, like a struck animal, ailing and left for dead.
Gradually the days become longer and the Northeast begins to warm. Spring smiles across the countryside. The monstrous plow trucks retire to their garages, ready for hibernation. Trees stretch the kinks from their boughs and welcome the return of sunlight and songbirds. People emerge from their homes to clear the remnants of winter, sweeping the sand from their walkways and winding up their Christmas lights. The snow banks, which just a few weeks earlier had stretched along the roadsides, dissolve into sandy, litter-dotted mounds. Deserted boxes, no longer smothered by snow, are rescued and revived. Those that cannot be resuscitated are replaced. It has been a sad season for mailboxes, but like spring tulips, they shoot up from the ground renewed, free to assume their posts once again.