A dark and reckless winter
Winter is a dark and reckless thing, even when it’s half asleep. By which I mean, of course, the lack of snow cover in most of Maine this year, at least through the middle of last week. At our house in Troy, we’ve had disturbingly mixed feelings about this.
In one way, we feel like we’re escaping execution. Every day the driveway is visible is another day to pretend burial by ice crystal is a month or more away. There have been some nippy nights, some minus-single-digit mornings. The daylong flurry that fell a few days after New Year frosted the ground but then vanished in most places, returning the brown and gray of extended Thanksgiving-time. So this is by any standard of dread a welcome delay.
On the other hand, I can remember in younger days, the 1980s to be exact, spending blizzardlike amounts of energy waging mental war against global warming. Winter was clearly – to me, at least – warmer, shorter and less snowy than when I was a kid in the 1950s and ’60s. We used to jump off the roof of our ranch house in Cape Elizabeth into snowdrifts. By 1983 or so there appeared to be no longer any such possibility for a kid in southern Maine. I remember fretfully watching the newspaper’s degree-day report ascending steadily over each previous year’s report. (A “degree day” is a figure indicating how much energy on average is needed for heating buildings. It was less and less year after year.) It seemed like the environmental apocalypse was gathering to rip us limb from limb. Not one to neglect an opportunity for psychic friction, I resisted it with all my might inside the confines my own skull.
Here we are in 2012, and the signs of wholesale climate change are abundantly upon us. A huge majority of climate scientists – somewhere in the range of 99 percent, or so I have read – agree the Earth is warming, and the vast majority of those agree that human activity is a major contributor.
Now this is troubling, and surely bodes some strange eruptions to our Earth. But for several reasons, I’m not as upset about it as I was when I was 30. Anxious mental hand-wringing is futile. What can I do about the sea of troubles a warming climate might bring?
While I am well aware that the lack of snow is probably yet another portent, on the other hand by last week I had shoveled hardly anything white so far this winter. I’ve gotten up and down my driveway, both by foot and auto, with almost no difficulties. I’ve lugged home 5-gallon pails full of sand from the town garage only once. No one has slipped and fallen on the way to the car. And the blue jays, squirrels and other brute neighbors appear to be thriving even though it’s technically the dead of winter.
The meteorologists have been carefully pointing out that it has snowed the last few months; the disjointed bit is that it has also melted. By a rough calculation based on local average figures, we get around 20 inches of snow in any given January in our wooded dell off Route 9. But even when there’s no snow, we still have more snow than everybody else, as Bonnie observed last week. When Bangor reports 4 inches, we get 6 or 8. When 12, we measure 14 or 15. So while the rest of the world has been mostly brown and gray this winter, that white New Year’s coverlet was still in our Back Troy woods last week.
Which was sort of comforting, because the brown and gray in the world beyond our driveway has troubled my mind’s eye. While there’s a certain barren beauty in November’s floral skeletons and the green winking out to tan and brown, two months later the bare crooks and joints of birch and maple branches seem cadaverous. All those twisting, naked limbs look like they’re fighting to get free of a claustrophobic panic. Surely many bushes and shrubs that depend on snow insulation have been burning in the open cold.
My mind just cannot let sleeping winter lie. I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself the king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams. Despite its convenience, this snowless winter is deeply out of joint.
Dana Wilde’s collection of Amateur Naturalist and other writing, “The Other End of the Driveway,” is available electronically and in paperback from Booklocker.com