Sixteen and Climbing

Tue, 01/29/2013 - 3:59pm

Monday the snow began in mid-afternoon, earlier than expected. It fell softly into the evening, obscuring the view of the harbor, an odd band that was not quite following the weather predictions leaving more along the coast than inland.

Later, after evening had turned to night, I told the visiting little black dog — she is a small lab, not a true little dog — we had to go out and I bundled against the presumed cold we had encountered earlier only to step into a world of ethereal white.

It was cold but not bitter, the air was still and powder snow lay in an unmarred blanket gathering and reflecting moonlight defused by a lingering cloud cover, an illumination that would have been absorbed by the winter bare land.

It was a breathtakingly perfect landscape for that moment before we stepped into it, the cover untouched even by the ever-present deer. The little dog ventured forth, wading through the inches deep snow, while I grabbed the infrequently used shovel that I keep high on the wall of the entry, clearing a patch of walk while the white stuff was light and fluffy and easy to move.

The harbor lights were clear and twinkling as though a box of Christmas decorations had fallen from the sky, yellow and red and white with a touch of flashing green on the skyline. When we were children and the brush had not yet grown to its present heights my father and our neighbor strung string of bulbs along the eaves and gables of their houses and we’d go up to the main road and realize blue, from a half mile away, showed as nothing more than a dead space between yellows and reds and whites and even greens.

Today it would not matter, that long view is gone, remaining only in the backgrounds of old family photographs. The lack of it is apparent when it snows, the house on the Neck Road with the light red roof used to be clearly visible from my yard, the white roof one of the marvels of first light after a snowfall.

The harbor I see, and the island rising behind it, still the same brown and white patchwork it always was, the same cold blue sparked with touches of brightening gold as a winter afternoon succumbs to darkness a whole hour later than the earliest sunset in December.

Even on these coldest of days it seems a fair trade, the cold that comes with the increased light.

The snow has lasted, blown around by the wind on Tuesday, filling the air with sunlit crystals, pushing and pulling the even cover of the night previous, leaving patches of grass nearly bare and creating mini-drifts. There are none of the majestic, sculpted hills of white that rise from the land like crafted marble, or fill the roads to disappearing; rather these are the gentle mounds that make the earth uncertain underfoot.

It is cold and the snow is blowing in the wind, but the sun is shining when I go out thinking the road will be too bitter with the wind that sweeps unbroken across the front field and head for the bank lot where the topography offers some respite. The little dog runs ahead, delighted to be out in the snow until she finds herself mired, suddenly up to her stomach, like Dr. Foster going to Gloucester in that summer rain (stepped in a puddle, went up to his muddle, and he never went there again).

The exuberance of dogs in the snow has always been a delight, somewhere I’ve a photo of one of my goldens on a friend’s deck table. It was quite a leap up and why he would want to lie on a cold metal table piled with snow was a mystery but he liked the perch.

This little dog’s legs are not as long, nor — at least on the first day — has she the bounding energy of larger creatures and she readily leaves the confusing snow and returns to me and ground less covered.

It is not until the next day, when the cold has settled and 16 and climbing really isn’t that bad when the sun shines and the wind is not raw, that we head to the beach. It does cross my mind walking down the road that I am in peril of ending up like Charlie Brown in an old cartoon, so bundled against the weather that when he fell he spun round on the ice and lay there, unable to move, like, well, Charlie Brown.

The snow, too has settled, and it is blindingly bright so I hunt in my car for the sunglasses I’d gotten out yesterday after not bothering and walking into a meeting walking with that crazy red tinged snow blindness that transports me as smells do other people to childhood. The lane just beyond the back door drifted crazily and my mother let me go out and play in the gift the night had left behind, mindless of the cold until I was called inside to realize I was damp and cold and unable to see.

The road was clearer than I expected, bare in places, the warmth of the sun more powerful than the sub-freezing temperature. The path to the beach is protected from the wind and for a moment I shook off the hood and took off the gloves I would want on the beach, still covered with snow.

It had been a while since I had been down and the slicing, softening, slicing, softening that has been happening through and between the storms was at a harsh slicing stage, more bank than dune, the shore far too rocky even for January.

It is yet radically altered, a winter beach in extreme, hardly softened by the snow.

We did not stay long, clouds rolled over the sun and the air began to feel as cold as it was 16 and climbing.