Robert F. Bukaty/AP/File
A snowboarder builds a ramp in Portland, Maine.

Winter’s bracing embrace

Despite it, people persist up in Maine. I know why.

Up here in Maine it has been a winter to beat the band. In the first half of the season alone we had four blizzards. After one of these, getting outside was a matter of putting my shoulder to the door and ramming my way through the barricading snowdrift. Yes, I had to break out of my house.

These days, there is almost nothing one can accomplish without snow being part of the calculus. Want to walk somewhere? First shovel a path to the street. Then it’s a matter of walking in the street because the sidewalks are buried.

Driving home? When you get there, the plows have walled up the driveway, so you have to park in the street and shovel your way back to the garage.

What about driving itself? You’re at the mercy of the snow that covers the road. One slip of the wheel and you can only hope for the best, as happened when I lost control and came to rest in the embrace of a magnificent snowbank, which cradled the car almost lovingly, preventing me from careening into the woods.

I want to note that none of these are complaints. They are simply observations. And I would like to add one more to the batch: Despite the challenges of sometimes inordinate degrees of snow, wind, and cold, people persist here. I understand why. It has to do with the measured way Mainers live life in general.

I look out my kitchen window at the Penobscot River, frozen from bank to bank, the snow forming a common carpet as it passes from my backyard, out over the ice, and into the woods on the other side. I stare until I can take it no longer. Despite the comfort of my being on the warm side of the window, I am winter’s least willing prisoner. 

I grab my coat, hat, gloves, and scarf, and pull on my boots. I tramp outside, plod through the drifts, cross my yard, descend the bank, and continue out onto the river. I stop for a moment of respite. Lifting a boot, I set it down on unbroken snow. Then I admire my handiwork: a perfect boot print, its edges sharp, as if done with a cookie cutter. I step forward and make another, then another. For a moment I wonder: What would someone think upon seeing a dark figure out on the river’s snow, staring down at such length?

I have been here before. This is how one learns to love winter. My California and Florida friends would laugh if they heard me say such a thing, but this doesn’t make it less true for me. (I am mindful of what Emerson wrote in his essay “Self-Reliance”: “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius.”) 

Well, I’m no genius, but I do know what Emerson meant – that we as humans do hold certain basic truths in common – and it applies in spades to my solo moments in the snow as I make tracks with deliberate care. Winter in Maine is long, hard, and, this year, unrelenting. But I and my fellow Mainers approach it the way we would anything that needs to be done: We take it day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Managing one’s way through a Maine winter is akin to stacking wood – an impossible task if one imagines he can hoist the pile, but a warming experience when handled one stick at a time. One can do anything if it is tackled in such small pieces.

I finally look up from my handiwork – or should I say “footi-work”? Winter, like any guest, is here for only a while. In a short time it will depart and yield to another season’s knock at the door. And so I turn and gaze back at my home, perched in the distance, on raised ground overlooking the frozen river. Smoke curls from the chimney as if signaling, “You’ve had your share of winter for the day. Come home now.”

I do so, knowing that every step I take is a profession of love for an unloved season, and a gesture in the direction of spring.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Winter’s bracing embrace
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today