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In my 50-plus years on this planet, I've lived in or visited almost all of the contiguous 48 United States. From Maine to Florida, Maryland to California, I've spent enough time in enough different places to get the "lay of the land," as my granddad used to say. Here are some things I've learned.

In Maine, even in the middle of the summer, the lakes and rivers run as cold as cubed ice and nights instill a chill even after the warmest days.

In Florida (hurricanes aside) in the summer, even the oceans are too warm to cool you when it's 98 degrees with 90 percent humidity. And every insect known to science is swarming around or crawling all over you wherever you go.

In California, just to breathe costs extra, and every place you go wrings every last dime out of you in your appreciation for being there. And did the earth just move for you, too? The surf is better than Florida's, but there's got to be a lot more to life than waves that are "glassy and tubing."

In Virginia, in the span of a year, I endured two hurricanes, six tornadoes, an earthquake (minor) and a tropical depression. One year.

Oh, and Arizona's "dry heat"? You already know, don't you?

I've spent a decade in Western New York, and in that time I've worked as a temp at every major bank, law office and corporate headquarters throughout Erie County. I've survived a multitude of weather events, from blizzards to ice storms to those inexplicably isolated lake-effect issuances we're so often subjected to.

And after all that, with the help of a beautiful young woman who works for a small local newspaper publisher in Hamburg, I've learned why I'm happy here despite the weather.

This woman is only one of the hundreds of thousands of Western New Yorkers who work and live in what most other areas regard with ridicule for its economic and meteorologically challenging conditions. But she is a woman with a mission and a purpose in life, and it matters not what derision others may hold for where she performs that service or who she performs it for.

She coordinates programs like "Warm the Children" to dress and comfort those less fortunate throughout the Southtowns during the often bitter winters. She does the paperwork and gets the grants to improve working conditions for others in her business and makes sure every employee knows that she knows when it's their birthday or any other special event in their personal lives.

Every day, she does something to make someone else's life better, whatever the weather. And it's not like she avoids the Western New York environment. She shelters and feeds the stray cats and birds and squirrels and chipmunks that share her home, chips ice, shovels snow, mows lawns and rides her motorcycle every chance she gets.

And whether she steps out into a sun-dappled garden or a 4-foot drift of snow, she knows exactly where she's going and what she's going to do to make a better world for her having been here.

She taught me, whether in Buffalo or Bismarck, Boise or Bermuda, it's not the weather, it's who you are and who you're with that makes life worthwhile. Find that someone, that's the secret. Then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

ALEXANDER GRAHAM lives in Hamburg.