Around the middle of January the landscape looked pretty bleak. No leaves, bare ground, relentlessly gray skies. Where’s winter? some of us wondered.
Complained, even. Some years we get through to the spring equinox still wondering when winter is going to show up. The veteran New Englanders among us are sure it is going to show up, maybe in the middle of April. We aren’t fully persuaded otherwise until Memorial Day arrives, the thermometer hits 80 degrees (F), and it still hasn’t snowed.
Well, if you’re on the Vineyard or anywhere in New England, you know we didn’t have to wait that long this year. Blizzard #1 moved in on January 26 and 27. I was scheduled to participate in a reading at Pathways on the 27th. The organizers saw what was coming and cancelled it on the 26th. Good thing, too: by late afternoon on the 27th, nothing was moving. Snow was drifting two feet and deeper on the minor roads.
We didn’t get plowed out till Thursday.
The real miracle, given the high winds and heavy snow, is that the power never went out. (Nantucket wasn’t so lucky. A reported 80 percent of that island’s customers lost power, and for quite a while too. No joke when the temperatures are way below freezing.) I was seriously grateful for this because I was editing a 400-page dissertation for a PhD candidate who had his own deadline to meet. I let him know that incoming weather might disrupt our email communication. He’d already heard about our weather on the news — even though he lives in Norway.
Travvy and I went out walking that Wednesday morning. The snow was up to my knees in most places. For Trav it was like running hurdles with a hurdle every stride. By the time we got to the path that runs behind the school playing fields, we were both worn out. It took us almost 20 minutes to cover a distance that usually takes 5 or 6. We turned around and came home.
Once Halcyon Way, Pine Hill, and the Dr. Fisher Road were plowed, the walking became easier. The trails were still buried, but Trav and I could still get a good morning and late-afternoon walk in if we stayed on the dirt roads and Old County Road, where the snow was banked high on either side but the road surface was pretty clear. The stretch of bike path behind the Nat’s Farm subdivision, we discovered, had been in a low-drift area. We added it back into our regular route.
The big challenge wasn’t snow. It was ice. While the rest of New England got socked with a couple more snowstorms, we got flurries, drizzle, and temps that rose a few degrees above freezing then fell just below. The dirt roads got slushy, then the slush froze. My car tires would slip into frozen ruts and stay there. The #1 rule of winter driving is “no sudden moves,” meaning easy on the brakes and the steering wheel. The ruts were always headed in the right direction, so I let them take me where I wanted to go.
Walking? Thank heavens for Yaktrax. I discovered Yaktrax a few years ago and have sworn by them ever since.
Back then hardly anyone I knew had heard of them. They weren’t available on the island so I got them mail-order. One of my two pairs was wearing out — some of the metal coils had broken — and I wanted a new backup pair. Could I get them on the island?
I’d just started to look around when Trav and I ran into a neighbor on the Nat’s Farm subdivision road. He got out of his car to say hi to Trav. We talked about the weather (of course) and about ice. I showed him my Yaktrax. Aha, he said, he’d just heard about them from Kenny at the gas station. He thought Brickman’s was carrying them.
I stopped by Brickman’s when I was in town a couple of mornings later. Yes, indeed, they were carrying them, but not only were they sold out, the entire order coming in that afternoon was spoken for. Did I want to get on the wait list for the order due in the next day? I did. I, two staffers, and a bystanding customer raved about Yaktrax for a few minutes, then I went on my way.
Valentine’s Day weekend we finally got another big one. The snow was fluffier this time around and not quite as deep, but it was still pretty impressive.
Winter can be challenging, that’s for sure, but I have to confess: I love it. I probably wouldn’t love it, at least not so much, if I didn’t have warm clothes and a roof over my head, if I weren’t reasonably agile and if I didn’t work from home.
I love the stripped-down trees and the patterns they make against the sky. Winter sunsets can be spectacular or subtle. After the sun goes down on the grayest of days, the snow on the ground seems to extend the day — and the days are getting very noticeably longer. When Travvy and I get back from our late afternoon walk, it’s often quarter to six and I don’t need a flashlight.
Snow disappears the roads, then the plow guy brings them back.
It disappears the trails too. The trails don’t come back so quickly, but the snow reveals so much more to the untutored eye than leaves and dirt: tracks of rabbit, squirrel, and deer; the parallel lines of a cross-country skier.
Whether by sound or smell, Travvy knows where the snow is hiding something interesting. He digs ferociously and usually comes up with something crunchy or otherwise edible. He woos at familiar shapes that the snow makes strange. I sometimes mistake the tall stump up ahead for a troll. Maybe he does too.