To the heart of winter

Fri, 01/02/2015 - 4:33pm
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It’s all relative.

The windshield wipers on my car are disintegrating. It would have been a dreadful realization had I not first noticed the piece of frayed, fluttering black rubber when I was driving and the wipers were at rest. I thought it was the gasket holding the windshield in place that was unraveling. It was a relief knowing it was a much easier-to-fix problem.

It’s all relative.

Last summer when I spoke of the previous winter, I had to acknowledge it had not been as cold as it seemed, there was no prolonged spell that made me worry that the pipes in this old house would freeze. There is not another year in my long memory living here when I had been able every day to drive out my gate to the Mansion Road, the turn that drifts when nothing else does. It was a trick of the direction of the wind; still, it was odd how few people heard what I said, they were so attuned to horror stories they heard I could not drive out all winter. By the numbers it was not really all that cold, I keep insisting. However, neither was it ever warm , in that relative warmth of winter, but for a blip in January. There were none of these shirt-sleeves-in-the-sun February days or breath-of-spring afternoons in March — and no shad in April — no glimpses of light at the end of the long tunnel and therein lay the horror of last winter. It was relentless, starting early and ending in... June.

December is coming to a close, we have had a few cold snaps but it remains above freezing today, a bit warmer than the lack of sun and presence of rain make it seem. There are a few sub-freezing days in the week-out forecast, but nothing dramatic, no single digit days. We are past the solstice and, while it is the portal to the heart of winter, there is the steadily increasing assurance that the sun is returning.

Perhaps my mind closes out the alternatives, but I remember mainly mild Christmas days and even muddy New Year’s. Oh, there were some with snow on the ground. The very first I was in grade school and longed for the storied White Christmas, settling for the remains of drifts at the edge of the yard, insisting the photo of my brother and me – comfortable in shirt sleeves – be taken to include them. There was a dusting the next year and there are some memories of coming home from church services when there was ice in the barnyard.

One year snow fell softly on the mainland, a picture book setting for an anniversary rendition of “Silent Night.” It was accompanied by a guitar, as legend holds the night the song debuted the church organ was broken.

Another, it was so cold here, smoke rose from what looks like a deep bay, but is only the gentle curve of Crescent Beach. From my kitchen window, the masts of a vessel poked through the cold vapor. The neighbor said the sailing craft was there every year.

“Oh, that is just not so!” I rarely bother to say to him given the number of times he is more accurate in his observations, noticing things I miss, last summer the waxwings that spent whole days in my big maple tree.

There is a white fishing boat moving off to the east and I reminded of going to the beach, seeing three vessels offshore and falling head first into the old carol. I saw three ships not quite “come sailing in” but it was “on Christmas day in the morning.” There are, I am amazed to learn, nine verses to that song — only one of which I know — all with the simple refrain that is now dancing in my head. It took so long to get into Christmas mode, I am reluctant to leave it behind, and that lingering tune does not bother me.

The field on the other side of the pond has faded but is still green, close cut by neighbors who go out there to play games. It was the source of the first regular piece of mine run by this paper in the last issue of 1991, the few paragraphs into which this column grew. It was a summer recollection of my niece, a little girl then, fascinated by the tractor moving over that lot. We sat on the lid of the old, long unused cistern, and listened to the sound of the engine, wafting over the water, telling us if it was going up hill or down.

The fortunes of that field have changed over the years intervening, from hay to scrub to brush back to chopped scrub then hay and lastly, to grass. Now, lawns are built; I remember when they were simply reclaimed, as the field across the pond has been, mowed and mowed until the bayberry and shad and whatever else was growing gave up and fled to a more hospitable locale.

The world has changed, we all say this time of year, remembering not only the last 12 months, but the decades through which we have lived. This is also when we are able to notice that which is hidden in summer, be it by lush foliage or by the traffic to which we must pay heed. The dune on the landward side of the beach house, that was so high it held vegetation before Superstorm Sandy, the one finally removed in the clean-up, is growing, again. I wonder how long it will be before the First Warden says, when I raise my hand at the start of Council meetings for public input, “You’re not going to talk about the beach, again, are you?”

Probably, yes. It baffles me that no one else seems to notice.

And with that, a Happy and Healthy New Year!