Essay: Maine's never-ending winter

With so much snow on the ground, it's nearly impossible to conceive of what spring must be like, no matter how many springs one has lived through.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
The frozen North: Ice coated trees in Pownal, Maine, on Valentine's Day, after a storm dumped snow, sleet, and freezing rain on the state.

What a winter. I lost count of the number of snowstorms weeks ago. All I know is that they seem to be lined up like planes approaching a runway, with no end in sight. There's so much snow heaped about that it seems to form a physical burden, like something people are carrying on their shoulders.

The other night I huddled in a pizza parlor with friends as the heavy-laden wandered in. I knew one of them. He confided to me: "This winter is like a joke where the teller keeps repeating the punch line. I keep wanting to yell, 'I get it!' "

Now that it's March – the month in which spring is supposed to debut – we all get it. The snow has gotten in the way of everything. Backing out of my driveway is like exiting a canyon. Homes have been turned into gingerbread houses topped with sugar. The very sight of our mudroom fills me with ennui, and I avert my eyes from the piles of sopping boots, gloves, scarves, and parkas.

Yesterday, I watched from the kitchen window as my son did something that would be prohibitive any other time of year: He ascended his treehouse and leaped – repeatedly – into the wild blue yonder, arms and legs flailing, only to land in a deep, soft pillow. I would have gone out to join him, but he was wearing my boots and the snow between me and the treehouse was three feet deep.

The thing about having so much snow on the ground – with more on the way! – is that, while it's a pleasant exercise to hope for spring, it's impossible to conceive of what spring must be like, no matter how many springs one has lived through. The prevailing feeling right now is that it's always been winter and that's just the way things are around here. It reminds me of something my mother, who grew up in the 1930s and '40s, once told me: that she thought the United States had always had the same president, Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four times. When he died, she said, people just couldn't believe it.

I want to note here that I am not complaining about the snow, only observing. I dare not complain, because sooner or later my whining will put me at odds with some venerable old Mainer who will attest to far, far worse winters in the "old days," and he'll have the photos to prove it. I have, indeed, seen those pictures of drifts covering cars and reaching to second-story windows, and whole towns turning out with shovels to dig tunnels in those drifts so the trolleys could get through. What must it have been like in the times before plows, salt, and snowblowers? I presume folks just stayed inside, kept the wood stove burning, and waited it out.

There is, however, a subset of Mainers that I'm sure didn't exist way back when: the so-called snowbirds, those who flee to Florida before the first flake rocks gently to earth up Bangor way. I don't begrudge them their annual journey south to a land of eternal sunshine and warmth, but I do think of them as taking their shoulders from the wheel just as things are getting interesting up here, and it is incumbent upon those of us left to join ranks for the struggle ahead.

When the doors are banked shut with snow, the plows have sealed our driveways with hillocks of snow, and a false step sends one plunging up to the waist in snow, a postcard from Florida with the message "wish you were here" doesn't do anybody a lick of good. In fact, someone with a more suspicious nature than mine might consider it a taunt.

Well, be that as it may, the report for tonight is for more snow. Or ice. Or snow and ice. It really doesn't matter anymore because this winter has become something of a buffet, where the wait staff fills the chafing dishes as quickly as the patrons empty them. My duty, then, as one who is resolved to stick it out, is to line up my shovels and roof rake by the back door, haul in the night's supply of wood, and get the car into the garage. And then, after the evening meal, I will curl up with a book and wait for the inevitable. But first I will light the fire – with a postcard from Orlando, Fla., that arrived just yesterday, asking how things are where I am.

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