Digging In, and Digging Out

Another Winter Storm


            The boy is a man now, teaching in Arizona where he misses the seasons, and the girl is in college, learning how to minister to the sick and is too busy to notice the seasons. So, today I sent the man, basking in the Sonoran Desert, a note informing him of a southbound storm approaching Maine — eighteen-to-twenty-four inches of snow, courtesy of a recently fractured polar vortex. It takes most fractured bones eight to ten weeks to heal (for non-smokers), but I’m told we may recover from this fractured vortex in only six to eight. We should expect at least a month of heavy snow and frigid weather. But here in Maine, we take winter in stride: Taking long strides, we are determined to trudge through winter and walk right into spring when we can run around in shorts and t-shirts as soon as the thermometer hits fifty, drink cold beer outdoors again, and clear up our eczema.

            In anticipation, “We’re digging in our heals,” I wrote him. Four big loads of maple, beech and birch firewood is now inside the barn (which in this house, like most farmhouses in these parts, is connected by an “ell.”) The woodstove is going strong. There’s plenty of milk, eggs, bread, bacon, and popcorn. The outdoor cat is indoors, and the indoor cat is sleeping, which is about all he ever does. (He/she is a true hermaphrodite, and for good measure has been both spayed and neutered. Most days it’s clear he/she doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.) There is fuel in the snowblower, and the shovels are where we can find them (and by “we,” I mean I).

            There has been less talk about the weather around here this year than common, probably because there hasn’t been much weather as of late. It has been cold — a solid, practical cold that took hold in early December and has reminded us of winter’s trials, but without the snow.

Those of us in the northeast who endure winter every year belong to a fraternity, a brotherhood of the deprived and tired — of the weary and wary (we always keep a weather eye out).

Before the snows, in autumn, the coming of the cold brings out the best of people. Many of life’s more academic considerations are put aside in favor of the simple task of staying alive. The feeling seems…primal. There is much to do in the fall; maple and oak leaves must be raked and put on the compost pile. The older houses (like ours, which is nearly 200 years old), need to be banked with something to buffer the winds that try to creep in through the foundation. Draft-stoppers are retrieved from storage and attached to the door bottoms to keep out the same winds. Several chord of firewood must be cut, split, stacked, and covered. Pipes need to be drained and insulated, and hoses put away. Saplings and rose bushes are covered, the garden beds are turned in, and the garlic needs to be planted and mulched with sweet-smelling pine needles. The fuel is run out of the lawnmower, and the oak logs are impregnated with hundreds of shiitake mushroom spores. Winter clothing is found and smelled, and if not passable, cleaned. The windshield washer fluid is topped-off, and the snow tires are mounted. My father used to say, “There are two seasons in Maine…Winter, and Getting Ready for Winter.” With the chores finished and our autumnal primordial instincts satiated, people hunker down. The winters can seem boring and endless (here in New England, there are more babies born in September and October than any other months).

Writers work every day, and I will work both days this weekend, four-six hours each morning, the rest of the time devoted to reading and a couple of movies. And of course, shoveling. And because I have fifty-nine winters under my belt, I can guarantee a few things: Spring will eventually come — whether I’m here or not — the wood stove will stay hot, and there will be no September babies from this old house.

Dee Dauphinee