Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A big winter

Here in Vermont, in our peculiar dip between the northern and southern ranges of the Green Mountains, where the Taconic Hills peter out, we define winter as the non-growing season when it’s probable to have snow on the ground. This can last three to seven months, averaging four to five.

Some years we have a cold winter. Others, a dry one. A snowy one. An icy one. A wet one. Pick your dominant characteristic.

This year we’re having a big one: big snow, big cold, big ice, big wind. It started in November and looks likely to run into April. Most everyone is going nutty, because when we have the big snow—great for skiers and snowmobilers—it’s often too bitter to go outside. When temps moderate, it’s too icy to do anything requiring traction. When it’s cold enough, long enough, to make good lake ice, there’s a solid mass of snow atop it. The mix and match get out of sync, leaving the effect of just...plain...yuck.

It’s been a big winter, too, for other areas. Our region may be renown for the season, but this year other areas are getting the worst of it. Our two feet of snow has been three—four—five—somewhere else. In the worst ice storm, we lost power for three days while others suffered for a week. When we’ve gotten winds that ripped covers off woodpiles and shattered plastic storm windows, others have had roofs ripped off or tidal surges that destroyed their coastlines.

If you’ve got to have winter, it pays to be rural. We get to see the beauty. Sensual, unbroken white across the countryside, turned surreally blue under moonlight on the rare clear night, during which we can also see the Milky Way and constellations. And wildlife keeps reminding us that the season is marching on. Chickadees, for instance, have been making their “spring” call since December. A few weeks ago, the ravens began their courtship dances. This month the owls start theirs: invisible in the dusk and dark, but louder and louder with their monkey-like whooping and cackling. Then, because there’s no competition from artificial lighting, we can see the extra minutes of light added to every day.

This serves, of course, to make us chafe against the unrelenting weather. But at least we have assurance that it will end, which always seems to come sooner than we expect.

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