Dear friend: Today I am mowing the lawn behind my new home in California, and thinking about you, dear friend, shoveling snow outside your home in Massachusetts. I have never mowed a lawn in January before, and it surprised me how much I resented this untimely chore. Dull old blades mincing their way down the slope; do they sense it is not their proper season?

As I listen to the rasping twirl of the blades, I recall another, more familiar sound. Pausing on my grassy slope, eyes closed, my ears are filled with the rhythmic scrape of snow shovels. Their harsh clang against frozen steps and sidewalks is followed by a leaden slosh as heavy, wet snow is thrown aside. Now I hear quick, steady jabs - a light snow. Next the scrapes are slow, and separated by a long, heavy pause: I know it is a deep snow, and hard chilling work. Why does this remembered symphony of sound suddenly alert my senses? Rushing in now are sights and emotions only half noticed at the time. . . .

Standing still, I am warmed by the strange California sun. I watch a ladybug light on my arm and slowly ascend to my shoulder. Flicking her away, I stubbornly close my eyes and return to familiar terrain. I am not yet ready to surrender myself to this new home.

My mind's eye settles happily on a scene repeated several times each winter. The street is full of shapes bobbing up and down, snow flying to the right and left. The world is white, but cheered and highlighted by the bright caps and scarves and mittens of its inhabitants. Alone in my new yard, I am suddenly struck by an obvious reality: Snow shoveling is a sociable task; lawn mowing, a lonely one. All the world goes out simultaneously to remove the snow; lawns are mowed on different days, and with no sense of a common purpose.

While New Englanders politely avoid one another most of the year, they seem eager, after a storm, to get outside and exchange pleasantries across the snow. Emerging from snug houses, they hail neighbors. Work continues unabated until each has opened a channel from himself to the road, and the unspoken truth is asserted: We are no longer alone. We are bedfellows, sharing a snowy blanket in a cold world.

This revelation pleases me, and I smile at the realization that New Englanders are not truly as independent as they seem. The ladybug again lands on my arm, as though calling me back to the task at hand. With a mental tug, I relinquish the remembered vision, and turn to survey my new domain. The yard is large and we will soon plant a good garden. By the time we are harvesting crops, I expect our own roots will be deep in this new soil. But I will not forget you, dear friend, or the land I grew to love.

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