Expectations of Cardinals

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 8:15pm

Yesterday afternoon it snowed, the same snow that was forecast, at least by Facebook page eweather.com that I have come to rely on above all else except NOAA.

We live, I was again reminded, in a part of the world where the weather can vary wildly: from the south shore of Rhode Island to its northwest corner where the cold seems always to settle; from here to the mainland; from here to a mile or two inland; and even from one part of our little island to another.

The line of the lesser storm, the not-much-snow, and that turning to sleet then rain, started on the west end of Long Island, and following a northeast track, hit somewhere on the eastern Connecticut shore, before slicing across Rhode Island, leaving South County, southeastern Massachusetts, and “the Cape and the Islands” in the almost clear zone. It was set and did not move all the while we heard of wild weather in other parts of the country, while friends and family in and around Seattle posted photographs and narratives of more snow than they ever expect.

There had been only a few flakes in the air when I went to town a bit after noon because, once again, I found myself — by happenstance — falling into the way of Rhode Islanders who seem fated to forever keep alive the legacy of the Blizzard of '78, even those not yet born then and others not old enough to have any true memory of that week the state was immobilized. Yes, I went to the store for milk, but solely because I was almost out.

There was snow in the air, the south end of the island was blurry, a gently hued watercolor fallen into a pool, fading into an undefined pale mass. It was not white-out, it could have been salt mist thrown up by a wild ocean, or unsettled winter fog. The pavement was clear, pre-treated someone said, a preventative measure against an improbable freeze, but it is the slickness of near ice that scares me more than crunchy snow so I would rather the caution be exercised.

Snow did fall for a bit, gathered more than I expected on the windows of the car I left sitting for longer than I had thought but seemed to be turning away from flakes to an annoying slushy sleet.

Talk of various closings had make me think I should head home before conditions worsened, as if whatever was beleaguering the heavily travelled highways around Providence was suddenly going to arrive here, despite the forecast.

The road was fine, I had my milk, and I headed north.

It snowed enough to turn the ground white, and to adhere to the stones of walls, winter cold hosts, but not to coat vines and branches of trees out to their tiny twig ends, the capillaries of their life system, and to turn the Mansion Road into a magical path lined with irregular filigree. An especially thick-needled spruce in one yard caught a dusting, but it was an exception. The wind was blowing, there was no slow, steady, straight snowfall that makes everything new and pure and creates an absolute expectation of cardinals, flashes of red that often appear at the same spot in the road, vivid color in an otherwise monochromatic landscape.

Neither was there the quiet of that rare perfect snow of a windless day that claims a greater share of our memory than our usual wind-driven mess that sweeps clear whole fields and fills the most inconvenient places — roads — with drifts.

The field my own road bisects, the rolling hill that was cut only a month ago, was solidly white, but for the narrow swath that was too damp even in January to hold machinery. Beyond it, my neighbor's fields, mowed months earlier and a bit closer to the melting influence of the salty ocean, and a bit higher and more exposed to the wind, were already less well covered. It was a strange little window in time, the snow that had fallen rolling across the land in anemic clouds, as if trying to escape being driven into slush by the clattering rain.

Two of the ever-hopeful horses came to the gate — the third, who has learned kicking the gate gains him nothing from me, didn't bother with a pretense of greeting — and I watched them a bit, curious creatures, from the warmth of my car before driving off, again, just down the road and up to the site of the old Mansion.

I went back down across that front field with its still-damp low area that has the sodden, rotten look of March on any day without sunshine. Fleetingly, the white disguised the darkness I knew was just waiting to emerge. That same area will glimmer in a few months, first with the pale shoots of the wild blue flag iris, then with their fragile and iridescent petals, purple, not blue, truth be told, glorious in the golden end-of-day light.

There was nothing of interest at the Mansion, no snow clinging to the privet hedges, the ocean only vaguely out there in the colorless day. 

Coming home my “cardinal” emerged, in the form of a STOP sign at the corner, beyond the squat pair of stone columns that once held the gates to the Mansion, and a snow-painted wall, before the leaning utility pole that has been so for an exceedingly long time, well-anchored by guide wires.

It was full rain by dark; when Autumn went out for the last time her feet left big holes, exposing what appeared to be a cover of snow for what it had become, a blanket of slush. The new morning started clear but drear, the road the line of silver it is after a rain, the previous day's brush with weather reduced to a few errant strands of white.

The sun came out and pushed away the feel of March.