It is an old, local, gallows-humor to say, when winter becomes especially obnoxious, “Have you surrendered yet?” You hear it at the local market, when someone walks in with a sour expression, having a bad-hair-day. Oddly, the soured expression usually vanishes and a grin flashes. It is as if the one accosted feels strangely recognized, and less alone in their misery. (You figure out the psychology. I’m too tired, having had to deal with so much slush and heavy snow my expression is likely soured, and also I’m having a bad-hair-day.)
Winter has a way of coming up with some new angle, some twist you have never seen before. I suppose that is one thing that keeps the dreariness from being too dreary: One looks about with interest for a new annoyance that was never expected.
This year the wonder is a strange lack of wind which has allowed the snow to build up on the boughs of trees to levels I haven’t seen before. Or, perhaps I once saw it, when I was young and could afford skiing, and rode ski-lifts to the tops of mountains where the rime could really build up on the spruce and fir trees, but they are trees designed to simply bend and curl over and endure the weight.
This is not the case for trees at lower altitudes. Eventually they break, and once you start to hear the cracking, sometimes like the report of a gun, coming from the woods, you start to notice the lights flickering, and perhaps make ready for the power to quit by filling a bathtub with water and lighting a candle.
My last local post described the storm that left our Childcare without power for nineteen hours. It did little to remove the snow from the trees, for the usual blast of northwest winds didn’t follow its passage. Instead the trees looked beautiful, and also dangerous.
Such heavy snow is sticky and great for making igloos, but perhaps such igloo-construction is unwise, for a man of my advanced years. In fact I know it is, for I was barely able to creak out of bed the next day, and headed for the aspirin bottle even before the coffee pot. Ahead of me my schedule foresaw there was heavy slush to clear up from the front walk of the Childcare, and I decided after that I would lean against a tree and watch the kids play. That may not be much of a curriculum: To not be at involved at all, but I could always say the woods were too dangerous to walk in, with burdened limbs crashing down.
But for play the children wanted to sled, and fresh, heavy snow is not good for sledding. The sleds just sink, making a sort of crater on the hillside. One must pack down the snow, but small children are not all that good at packing, it turns out. So I had to show them, slowly and laboriously tramping a wide path up the hill. I attempted to involve them, but their footprints tended to wander off and not stick to the planned route. Apparently it was too boring to pack a straight path.
I consoled myself by remembering my cellphone has a gadget that counts how many steps I take in a day. But it turned out this odometer thought I must be cheating, to take such short steps. All my tromping didn’t count as steps, to my deep disappointment. All I got was more weary than ever, as the kids got some slow sledding over the wet snow, as the long day ended.
There was still plenty of ice glinting in the treetops, as yet another storm approached.
It was another slushy storm. You could tell it was going to be hard to forecast where the rain-snow line would set up. They were forecasting a burst (or “thump”) of six inches of heavy, wet snow, changing to freezing rain and then rain, which didn’t sound good. The lights had been blinking all day, even without any added snow. But there was nothing to do but watch the storm come rolling east through the Ohio Valley on the weather maps.
The question was how soon the coastal development would develop, and how far north the warm air would surge, and how strong the “cold air damming” would be, and whether any sneaky cold air would creep under the warm air from the northeast as the coastal low “bombed.”.
Ordinarily such stuff fascinates me, but I was pretty achy, and the way the lights were flickering messed up my laptop’s ability to stay on the sites I tried to look at, and my weary brains had trouble staying in focus as well. After a easy-to-make dinner of hotdogs and beans I glanced out the window and saw it was snowing to beat the band, and then thought I’d lay down for just a bit to digest greasy hot dogs, but utterly konked out. (Just to show how tired I was, I left a lone beer on the table, with only a single sip of it swallowed).
I awoke at 3:30 AM and thought it might be wise to undress for bed, but then remembered I hadn’t put wood in the fires. Blearily I hobbled about, attempting to avoid clattering and clanging too much, as my wife has been as weary as I, and she was softly snoring. The power had been off, and the digital clocks were blinking on various devises, but we have some clocks that are battery-powered, which is how I knew it was 3:30 AM. The fires had burned down to embers, and it took time to get them going again.
At some point I went out on the porch for a couple logs. The air had a mildness unlike what I expect in January, and a quick glance down the steps showed that roughly three inches of snow (7.62 cm) was swiftly wilting under steady rain. The changeover had come earlier than expected, which I was glad to see. Hopefully the snow would shrink, and flow down the drains without the floods we had in December. I prefer snow melting to shoveling the stuff.
The lights flickered again as I glanced at the radar before heading back to bed. There were no warning signs of cold air and snow sneaking south as a backlash, and instead signs that a “dry slot” would end the rain earlier than expected. (I am located in the orange heavier rain, between Lowell and Keene.)
That “dry slot” did me a favor, for I overslept. I know when I oversleep, because it isn’t pitch dark out. I leapt out of bed, threw on my clothes, and rushed to clean the slush from the walks at the Childcare before the customers arrived. The morning was mild, and I had only to wipe the wet snow from my windshield, without needing to scrape at any frost. Yet there was still ice in the trees, and in fact the morning was sparkling, with the trees shimmering silver.
It is important to drink in that silver shimmering, for all too soon your eyes must drop to what you must shovel.
I did the front walkway, and no customer was inconvenienced, because the fact of the matter was most everyone in town was behind schedule, because the power outages messed up everyone’s clocks. Also the constant surging and blinking of the electricity supply messed up other switches in modern conveniences. I faced a freezer and a water pump that had quit. But fortunately I had five young men arriving at my Childcare and five snow shovels, and, rather than sullenly waiting for the school bus, they made some money shoveling the Childcare’s emergency exits. They trooped onto the school bus richer, as I, only $20.00 poorer, watched the snow slide off my “snow-shedding roof” and undo some of their work. Though they broke a couple shovels, they were a good investment, for they did free up my time, allowing me to get the freezer and pump working again.
(All I did was un-jam the switches; I don’t know how power surges manage to paralyze such devises, but working them once undoes the damage: With the freezer I only needed to turn the dial until it was “off”, and then, with the tender fingers of a safe-cracker, turn the dial in the “on” direction, and the freezer abruptly hummed and worked. The pump involved exposing and physically manipulating a pressure switch, but with the same effect: The pump started humming, and faucets gushed water again.) (Few things are so disconcerting as an empty faucet.)
I had proven I can function to some degree without coffee, but I was not happy about it, yet at this point there appeared, from the shimmering glitter of the sunshine, an angel. It was my wife, with a steaming extra-large coffee she got at the take-out window of a local coffee shop. Abruptly all seemed right in the world.
“Not so fast”, said this winter of slush. As I abandoned my wife to a small crowd of merciless children, driving off to do a quick errand, the coffee fueled a brief euphoria. The sun was shining off the wet road as if I was on a highway to heaven, but just then a tree branch chose to unload about ten pounds of slush and ice, down, down, down, and smack dab in the center of my windshield. I only slightly indented my Jeep’s roof. Why the windshield’s glass wasn’t cracked I cannot say.
This shock brought me back to earth, and reminded of a poem I wrote at age sixteen called “Thaw”, and also of being aged fourteen and a time I threw a snowball which plastered the center of a windshield of a Cadillac, while I was out “raising hay” during a January Thaw with a close friend, and how we got chased a long way through winter woods by a huge, burly man who looked a little like he might work for the Mafia who came exploding out of that Cadillac. In both cases the message seemed to be, “Don’t get too cocky; winter isn’t over yet.”
If I get the time (which seems unlikely) I’ll expand the above paragraph into a post about what life was like for a teenager in the 1960’s. But for now I’ll just be an old man in the 2020’s, and end with a sonnet:
The thaw made snow get heavy. The forest Lost what was limber, and tall trees lumbered Like ships wallow when they're sorely distressed By freezing spray: Boughs burdened, so some bird Alighting pressed the final, fatal straw And a crack like a gun's shocked the cowed glades And a crashing and thudding maimed a flaw On many a fine tree, so summer's shades Will know pockets of light, but summer is far, Far from my thinking. Winter's just begun It's onslaught, yet has done so much to mar My peace of mind that I now want to run To warm taverns where jovial drinking Scoffs at the way the slush has me thinking.