Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whatever Happened to Winter?

Season (noun) 1. one of the four periods of the year (spring, summer, autumn, and winter), beginning astronomically at an equinox or solstice 2. characterized by particular conditions of weather, temperature   --Random House Dictionary

2011-12…the year of no winter…the winter that wasn’t…wimpy winter…Oh no, no snow! Any of these catchphrases might do for capturing the strangest of seasons New Englanders have seen in a long time.  A winter that never showed up.  A winter in name only. A winter that came in like a kitten and now plays likes a puppy dog, gentle and nippy, but no real growl. A winter with little snow, few days of sharp and clear cold and too many weird temperature swings mostly up, into the forties, fifties, and even sixties. 

So the long red underwear and itchy caps and soft fleece mittens I always break out come November sit unused by the front door. The snow shovel on the porch is covered in cob webs right next to the bag of ice-melt never torn open.  My favorite heavy blue wool winter coat, which weighs in at twenty pounds, hangs in the closet, an old friend I’ve yet to lean upon this season. 

The weather numbers confirm the oddness of this winter.  The Boston area has seen just one third of the snow and precipitation it normally receives. The “worst” snowstorm? Try last Halloween—what was that about?  And cold?  Well not much, if any.  It’s the fourth warmest January on record for the lower 48 United States, with an average temperature of 36.3 degrees. It’s so balmy that cherry trees have started to blossom in Washington, D.C.  Locally some of my neighbors have seen green shoots pushing up through the soil—in February?  A friend who taps his maple trees for syrup reports the sap started running two weeks ago—almost a month early.

It might feel less wacky if last winter hadn’t been so brutal and cold and snowy.  Remember this string of storms? Dec 26-27, 18 inches; January 12, 16 inches, the 18th, 4 inches, the 26-27th, 12 inches and so on.  By the time we got to April 2011 we’d recorded 85 inches of snow, the third whitest winter on record.  Global warming folks see these wild swings of weather as proof our planet is heating up.  Anti-global warming folks protest. Weathermen explain it’s an out of synch Arctic oscillation. But forget the science. I’m bereft—no drifts. 

What’s lost this year is the gift of a real winter season, a season, a clear and precise and specifically delineated time, with a beginning, middle and an end.  Just by walking outside we are supposed to know exactly when we are in the year and what time it is.  Not this year.  The calendar is cuckoo.

Though not a big winter fan I miss its clarity of atmosphere, its frigid uniqueness. The crunch of snow underfoot quietly echoing on a frosty winter night.  The sharpness of an indigo black night sky, stars twinkling in the dome above.  The reassuring click of the furnace as it kicks on. The wonder and grace of postponing the everyday when a blizzard blows in and envelops the world in a sacred hush.  And then after winter, the joy of spring finally, birds chirping, icicles melting, all made sweeter by having survived winter’s punch. We won’t have that lovely liberation next month. I’m forlorn for just a few flakes.

Seasons, distinct seasons, are like Mother Nature’s clock.  I live in and love New England because here we do have actual seasons, not like in California where it never rains or in Florida where clouds are wispy and quickly blow away or in Arizona where the only forecast is hot or hotter or hottest.  

Seasons here remind us of the miracle of Creation, the inexorable and dependable turning of the earth.  Seasons teach us that although we live on the earth we can never ever tame it or control it or box up its wild ways and weather.  Seasons are God’s gift to us, four natural postcards from the Divine, each which features a colorful brushstroke from the Great Artist’s palette: wonderful winter white, gorgeous spring green, shiny summer yellow and burnished autumnal brown.

There are only thirty-nine days to go until spring, March 20th.  The Red Sox equipment truck left for Florida last week.  The Easter lilies are almost full grown in the greenhouse, just waiting for the resurrection of a new season.  I’m excited and yet, it just doesn’t feel right somehow.  

Whatever happened to winter?


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