The changing of the seasons is always a little difficult for me. And when the winter snow pack recedes, slowly like a mountain glacier under the hot summer sun, it is even a little harder for someone like myself who is fanatical about cold weather.
This has been, without a doubt, a long and cold winter. It is the second coldest recorded winter in Massachusetts since they’ve been keeping weather records sometime back in the last quarter of the 19th century. Now that’s saying something. In something like 137 years there was only one winter that was colder on average. And keeping in mind that we didn’t have many of the coldest individual days this calculation was based more on the fact that it was very cold on so many days during our meteorological winter. On top of that this winter was pretty galdarned snowy; especially along the coast line. We have mountains of snow out here in the high country of interior New England but we have another resource that helps with all of the snow that the coastal areas do not enjoy. We actually have a place to put the snow when it is removed from roads, paths, and cleared areas.
There were more than a few nights where it was significantly underneath the ten below zero temperature threshold. In our house we call these nights “code blue” and I get up a couple of times during the night to feed the wood stove and run the water (to be sure the water pipes have not frozen). This means a little less rest but is well worth the extra effort considering how much miserable work it can save if the cold causes things to go wrong. It’s never fun correcting a frozen water pipe or pipes in twenty degrees below zero conditions. I know. I’ve done that a few times.
We are now past this extreme cold. It is the nearly the middle of March. The jet stream has not been favorable to either storms or excessively cold weather. This means our snow is melting. We’ve lost 10 inches in the last few days. And although today hovered around the freezing mark it is supposed to rain this weekend which will devour more of the snow pack. This is the way of late winter and early spring. The result should be that most of the snow is gone by the third week in April and the last giant snow banks will be reduced to puddles in early May. During that time of year we have an annual event that we call mud season. When you live on a dirt road for forty years like we have you get real familiar with mud season. The mud lives on your car, your clothes, your boots, on your hound’s paws, and withing the treads of your tires. It also somehow seems to leak into your spirit. It’s not so much the dirty part of mud that is a source of problems but rather the slippery part of mud that can alter our plans and aspirations. I’ve been stuck in a motor vehicle spinning my wheels more than a few times. This was even a bigger issue before we owned four wheel drive vehicles. With power to both ends of my truck I have to be mighty careless to get stuck these days but believe it or not I still have managed to bury my truck up to its belly by going places where I had no business being.
As we all know March is the most fickle of all months. Just when you get used to the idea of the snow melting away after a streak of warm days and a warm rain or two a snow storm will bust through your summer fantasies just to put you in your rightful place. The angle of the sun is getting higher as each day passes and each day lengthens allowing us easy access to a bright world where the length of day outweighs the length of night. Even the most stubborn packed pile of snow must yield eventually.
Generally I come to my senses that winter will once again succumb upon seeing my first flowering colts foot flower along a gravelly stream bank or the first green false hellebore leaves pushing through the last crust of snow. These revelations are like a little slice of heaven. It is then that I begin to look forward to the upcoming warmer season. There will be fresh warm, walks in green deciduous woods, dips in the brook, and warm sunny mornings with the sun in my face and a fishing rod in my hand. There will also be hordes of bugs requiring my blood, days over the 90 degree mark, and mowing the lawn but all are a small price to pay for the advantages of a glorious summer. Like winter it is a balancing act. Enjoying the good parts while accepting those things we may not care for as much.
Let me end this with the following letter to winter.
I notice that the sun is getting higher in the sky and the days and nights are warming up. Your beautiful white snow is melting and the depth of the blue ice on which I ice fish is getting ever thinner. You have given us your best these past four months. With no small effort you’ve provided us with ample snow and near record cold. You’ve given us all something to remember. I won’t forget the 40 inches of ice through which I drilled in search of fish. I won’t forget the many feet of snow removed one storm at a time on paths and our long driveway. And I won’t forget the joy of snow shoeing, the challenge of frozen feet on long days of ice fishing, and the shear beauty of a sunrise over a snow filled landscape.
It is your very presence that makes us all appreciate the other seasons. It is your harshness that brings me glee as I huddle with loved ones around a warm wood stove after a day in the frigid outdoors, perhaps cross country skiing or taking long hikes on frozen trails. You give me the most quiet time of year, especially in the deep woods. The snow covered conifers and naked hardwoods grace deep forests providing me with a winter chapel. It is the very solitude that you provide that gives me this peace. I thank you for all of this.
And please forgive me when I forgot all of your glory and wonder. You know, like the time I fell while lifting the snow plow knocking myself out and damaging all of the ribs on my right side. Or the days when I might have swore under my breath as my aching back produced sharp pain down through my sciatic nerve. I am human. I occasionally fail to appreciate even those things that I revere the most.
There is beauty in your demise. Black bears leave their winter dens in search of forage. White tailed deers escape their deer yards in large, south facing hemlock groves in search of green leafy food. Mice climb out of their sub-nevian tunnels for the first time in a third of a year. Fox play in the fields, squirrels chase each other from branch to branch, and otters return to unfrozen ponds where the fill their bellies with fresh fish. People, like me, bask in the sun on the edge of an open meadow and take all of this in. It is like a prayer without words.
Thank you old friend. I am sad to see you disappear. And as I age I hope we have many more years together. You are part of me. I feel you deep within my soul. Your cold, frigid winds blow life into me. You are the season that brings me new life each and every year.
Oh, and one more thing. How about another one next year like the winter we had this last year? Do you think you could do that for me?
With deepest appreciation and much love!
This was written for www.wildramblings.com in March of 2015.