Winter Whining

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 9:30am
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To the east of my house is a field a handful of us call The Orchard, a place where trees have not grown in my lifetime. They were, I speculate, apples, big enough that my dad and his three older brothers climbed among the branches. Tightrope walking between them may have been in the realm of mermaids and playing baseball on Georges Bank, stories a man told his little girl.

The trees went, as did so many, in the great Hurricane of 1938 and now that small lot is a bramble, beyond which is a low hill and beyond it the hidden curve of the pond visible from the Clay Head Trail. Further, comes a glimpse of the now brown brush covered bit of land through which a drain from that pond, then a peat bog, ran to the sea.

Finally, lies the ocean, visible between the low bank on the far side of old pasture land and the rise of Clay Head. It reaches out to the horizon, a span of gray or blue or green, flat, broken and white capped, anything in between, the constant the buoy sitting offshore. Some days that distant line disappears into the fog, or that line where the sea meets the sky is smudged, or it is overcast.

Weather permitting — a qualification so presumed I do not even think to write it — the horizon is visible and defined, an hour before sunrise and after sunset. “Nautical twilight” it is, by definition, when the sun is 6 to 12 degrees below that distant line. When I first read of it on the weather charts it did not seem possible, this “extra” — at this time of year — two hours carved from the night. Then I thought of those times sleep eluded me, when I dreaded that first light creeping up into the eastern sky out over those pastures, signaling the coming of dawn.

This endless winter did not begin early, I keep reminding myself. And as much as we long for spring, when I see Easter candy in the market my mind shouts “no!” Easter is early, more than a month away but, already, the days have lengthened enough that I truly am not wishing away winter. 

Still, there appears to be a film of ice on the base of that green buoy out to the east. It is supposed to be 2 degrees on Tuesday, no matter how many times I check the forecast, it does not change.

It has been cold, but Saturday I was surprised that the reach of the white ice had not extended out into the New Harbor as far as I expected, a bit of a disappointment during these cold days when we should have dramatic rewards for living though this frigid winter, stories to impress summer visitors when we know our experience pales in comparison to Nantucket and Boston. 

The New Harbor, white around the edges, was more gray, and what had been smooth water was rippling just enough to prove itself open. The white ice that had surrounded the pilings under Payne's, looking like the silken hair falling around the feet of well-groomed Clydesdales, was already gone, and one of those people far bolder than I was out on a paddle board where there had been no open water a day earlier.

Yesterday, though, the temperature climbed above freezing and it rained until mid-day. It was one of those rare times when windless winter sun was not what I wanted, not what the land needed; a sunny breeze could have carried away the water where puddles stood. There was none and there is only a slight rim of darkness around the lagoons re-frozen in my yard this morning, marking where the water had reached. 

Yesterday, we were in a world of slush, rain fallen on the ice that has been lying under the snow on the roads wherever the sun does not much shine. Even the little inner basin of the Old Harbor was what one long-time fisherman called “slush ice,” the stuff, apparently, some people are so foolish to think will support them.

More years ago than I can guess, the marina at Job's Hill, today's Boat Basin, was hit by a blasting — and rare — storm from the northeast in late May, hardly a week before Memorial Day. The floating docks were destroyed and the then-owner of what I call the third marina, stood on the shore telling me that was why he stuck with fixed piers. 

A few years later, the ice was so thick for so long it pulled the pilings from his dock out of their footings as the tides rose and lowered around them. I always wondered if he remembered his words spoken into the northeast wind.

The slush is freezing as I write, and what was big news in the earlier days of this cold, the possibility of another record-breaking night, has become ho-hum. The radio talk is already looking ahead to the next strike of Nature, rain still a week away on the weather site. The reference is an urban landscape where there will still be mountains of snow, and street flooding and all manner of horrid things.

Here, when the rain finally does fall and the ground does thaw, there will be mud. It almost makes me want to cling to the winter, that thought of the thawing earth, releasing deep frost that lies far below the surface. 

I am tired of wearing my Baffins, boots that have a bigger footprint than any of my shoes, of having to remember to negotiate more carefully lest I stumble and fall. I am tired of embracing winter, cold and white and beautiful, only to regret that decision four hours later when the sun sets and the wind howls.

Yet, somehow, inexplicably, the sight of Easter candy makes me sad.