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A Yankee Notebook

February 9, 2015


MONTPELIER – Snow is falling past the window as i write. Snow has been falling past the window for days now. It’s what I think is called “an extended winter weather event.” But at least the wind is light, and the house is sealed up as tight as a thermos bottle with all the snow piled on the roof and the foundation. This is the moment the under-the-snow-dwelling mice have been waiting for. Covered from detection by predators, they begin probing between houses’ foundations and wall framing, and exploring kitchen drawers and trash bins by night.

On a whim today, I checked the latitude and weather in Montpellier, France, this city’s namesake. It sits on the Mediterranean Sea at 43º6’ north, almost the same as our 44º3’; but while we’re basking in 18 degrees and apparently ceaseless snow, Montpellier is basking (without irony) at 55 degrees under clear, sunny skies. It’s easy to see why it was a favorite seaside resort for the ancient Romans, winter and summer. We don’t get many Romans here, winter or summer.

Our driveway descends about a tenth of a mile, and at its bottom end takes a steeper dip down to the road. On my way down yesterday between the snowbanks, I spotted a couple of pointy black objects sticking up down there, like a pair of crows, maybe. But then they rose up, and were attached to a head – then a neck, body, and four legs. The deer have taken to the plowed parts of the yard for getting around. This one just stepped aside a few cautious yards to watch me go by, and resumed her plod up into the back yard.

This morning the fresh tracks came right up to the foot of the ramp leading up to the back door; I think they want to come in out of the weather. I have a photo, taken a few years ago in a similar storm, of a young doe gazing in through the glass-paned cellar door. I don’t feel too bad about that; with this deep new snow, they’re bedded down at night well out of the wind. If they don’t hear me coming on my snowshoes, we scare the daylights out of each other when they leap up at the last moment like a breaching submarine missile. I do feel bad about the energy they spend bounding away from a harmless old man, through snow up to their chests.

Our son visited this week during an Eastern sales swing from his home in Arkansas. It’s a good thing he grew up here and did winter sports; otherwise, he might have been a little cowed by the conditions that we pretty much take for granted in New England. The Schadenfreude that the rest of the country feels when they hear we’re getting hammered, or are “reeling” from this or that storm, is misplaced. It’s just part of the dues we pay, usually willingly, for the privilege of living in this little (if occasionally chilly) corner of Paradise.

Still, we crossed our fingers till the kid rumbled up the driveway and out of the storm. We had a lovely visit, caught up on our granddaughters, and saw him off again Sunday morning as he headed west to Auburn, New York, right into the teeth of another snowstorm.

He had reminded me, over the weekend, of the warning I’d given him the first time he drove alone, in one of my trucks, to the local ski hill in Hanover: “Be careful! It’s really slippery out there.” A few minutes later he’d trudged into the yard to tell me the truck was buried almost out of sight in a snowbank. We got it out all right with the other truck. I resisted giving him that warning this time, lest the same sentence cap both ends of his motoring career. “Just give us a call or an e-mail when you’re safely moored for the night,” I said. Which he did: Holiday Inn, Auburn.

On the way, he posted a selfie taken on the Essex ferry. Lake Champlain, behind him, is almost covered with loose pack ice, which the ferry plows through, and the New York shore ahead is blurred in blowing snow. On the way west, he reported, he’d passed about two dozen wrecks, most of them just cars or trucks off the road. A little north of him as he passed Syracuse, about forty vehicles piled up on Interstate 81, blinded by snow blowing off Lake Ontario to the west.

Meanwhile, here at home, Mother and I passed a quiet Sunday afternoon, devoid of the football games that had been available the past five months. We read a bit, built a fire in the parlor stove and fed the other one in the wood boiler downstairs, counted the deer in the woods around the house, and watched the snow sift softly past the windows. All very quiet and serene.

But there’s a bit of excitement in the air here, too. We’re one week past the meteorological middle of winter and on our way out the other side. Construction workers outdoors are still enduring the winter’s coldest temperatures – which follow the solstice by about six weeks – but the longer afternoons are a blessing. I remember all too well picking up our tools and loading our trucks years ago in the dark of early January evenings at 4:30.

I remember also skiing a several-day-long marathon in Alaska in mid-February, when the sunrise each morning was perceptibly earlier and the sun remarkably warmer. My friends Larry and Helen in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, at 67º8’ north, are enjoying over seven hours of daylight now. The sun barely peeks above their horizon, but a month ago it didn’t appear at all. Currently they’re gaining over eight minutes a day. We’re nowhere near those dramatic changes here – we gain at the moment between two and three minutes a day. But that’s the essence of life here: plodding, controlled, methodical progress, like building stone walls or splitting wood by hand. And almost before we know it, the signs prohibiting overnight parking downtown will disappear and be replaced by others on our dirt roads posting them to heavy trucks. And then the aroma of sap boiling!

Photo by Willem lange