Another spoke in the wheel of winter

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 5:45pm

It is early February and the forecasts, if not the realities, are filled with snow and cold.

In the fall of 2012, between Superstorm Sandy and the official close of hurricane season, before winter had even arrived, the first “named winter storm, Athena,” blew around us. It annoyed me beyond measure, this trivialization of the natural world that impacts our lives. I wrote about the damage to the beach, the possibility overlapping, concluding with the hardly profound but true observation that “some things just are not right.”

In February of 2013 an AccuWeather spokesperson said “The Weather Channel has confused media spin with science and public safety. . .”

Now we have Weather Alert Days.

But it is early February. A cashier in the market told me it had been crazy before this last forecast of a storm. How to explain to a young man from Bulgaria that an actual weather event, a true blizzard, forty-three years ago, worked its way into the collective DNA of Rhode Islanders, natives and transplants? People born long after 1978 heed the call of bread and milk like those swallows who return to the Mission in California or the monarch butterflies who follow ingrained migratory patterns skirting mountains that no longer exist.

I have still my mother’s little weather diaries from that time. While snow did fall hard and fast, from our little perch out here in the ocean it did seem people on the mainland weren’t paying close enough attention. Here, on the 6th. “everyone was at the store at 10 a.m.” — but it was Block Island, we routinely prepared for disaster, probably our own reflexive response to drifted roads and power outages that were an expectation of winter.

We were not used to a week without mail. A day or two, of course, when the boat didn’t run, but it always came after service resumed. We were not accustomed to the mainland roads being the problem as was the case in 1978. By February 8 there was a boat, but no mail, by the 9th we were the only school open in the whole state.

Mail finally came on the 13th.

My mother died on February 8, 1987, the second Sunday of the month. It was cold. I remember a day or two later standing in the road at the four way stop, in front of the then Post Office at Bridge Gate, while Rob Lewis explained that he had left a casserole on my stove, with directions his wife, Alyce, had decided as he was going out the door, were not quite right. I can’t complain that he was in his snugly heated car, it was the old white van with the window down all the way. Those who knew Capt. Lewis will remember that to him cold was an academic concept. The coat I usually found so warm was no match for the afternoon wind and I kept trying not to say “we’ll figure it out!”

Still, it was early February and it was not until years later when a cousin who had come from the West Coast remarked she had never been so cold in her life as she was those few days on Block Island that I realized it was a miracle nothing froze, no fragile pipes broke, in this old house. Only now am I finally wondering where the heck everyone slept.

I do remember that cousin’s father, my uncle, long accustomed to Southern California living, who had grown up in this house, sitting at the dining room table, looking around, saying that they had basically lived in that one room in winter, all seven of them. “There was a stove, too” he added with some amazement, “and it didn’t seem crowded.”

It did not snow that week, I am quite sure. Flipping back through photos of the past several years more often than not there has been snow on the ground the first part of February.

Sunday, surely a Weather Alert Day, was simply dreary here, filled with rain turned to slushy wind-driven snow, and my resolve not to put away my Christmas lights until the sun sets at some yet-to-be-determined time was strengthened.

By Monday morning the sun was shining, contrary to more dire forecasts. It is a wonderful time of year for the fields to be covered with white. Town, across the bay, is a Christmas card, that winter patchwork of brown and white that is blue in the shadows, and there is a timelessness in the open fields and old walls running to the bright wafer of sea lying in hollows of the undulating land.

At day’s end it is truly golden hour, the sun giving even the winter-bare scrub maples a touch of gilt. The snow hastens the dawn and slows the sunset as another spoke in the wheel of winter passes.