Winter’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date by Julia Spencer-Fleming

I realized this season had become The Little Winter That Didn’t last night. We had all gotten home exhausted from serving a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at church. I changed into pj’s, threw a load into the wash, and then, opening the door to let the dog in, I was amazed to see… snowflakes! I ran into the family room, where the kids were collapsed in front of the TV, and switched on the outdoor light.

“Snow!” The kids got all excited. “It’s snowing!”

Let me repeat that. My children, born-and-bred Mainers, crowded against the window to see snow. In February.

That’s just not right. By this point in the year, we’re all supposed to be heartily sick of snow. Conversations in breakrooms and at the Hanneford and outside the post office should consist of complaints about shoveling, oil bills, ice dams and road salt destroying the undercarriage of the car. (The proper way to frame this is to claim, “I can hear it eating away at the metal.”)

Instead, we have days where the temperature rises to the mid-thirties or forties. The Saco River, which runs through my town, has had large stretches of open water all winter. In fact, no body of water has thick ice, as demonstrated by the mass cancellations of ice fishing tourneys, skating parties and snowmobile races. Nature conservancies and golf courses that usually pick up extra money hosting cross-country skiers are instead soggy stretches of mud, dead grass and slush.

There are a few undeniable advantages of a warm winter. In a state where 80% of the homes are heated by expensive fuel oil, filling up the tank once a month instead of twice is a real blessing, especially for our many senior citizens living on fixed incomes. The aforementioned road salt isn’t laid down twice weekly, so we might eke another year out of the old beater before it collapses into a rusty heap. And since our teenagers – like teens everywhere – refuse to wear sensible warm parkas whenever they might be seen by human eyes, the above-normal temperatures might prevent a few cases of pneumonia. (Yes, I know doctors say cold doesn’t really cause pneumonia. Who are you going to believe? Some strange scientist? Or your own mother? Don’t forget a hat and scarf.)

 And let me assure you, dear reader, if you’ve been thinking of coming north for a ski vacation, by all means hit the road. The resorts are churning out “snow” by the ton, and we will be happy to see you. Bring your checkbook. Tourism is the backbone of the Maine economy, and we’re missing all those ice fishermen, snowmobilers, skiers and folks who want to enjoy a white New England winter.

Therein, of course, lies the crux of the problem. If this kind of warm winter gradually becomes the new normal – if we can only guarantee one white Christmas out of four, instead of three – Mainers have some hard adjustments ahead of them. Floating ice-fishing houses? Slush-shoeing? Maybe we can become the cold-weather mudding capitol of the world.

In Maine, when you leave someone’s home in winter, you’ll often hear your host say, “Keep warm.” That, I’m afraid, is not going to be a problem.

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4 Responses to Winter’s Lease Hath All Too Short a Date by Julia Spencer-Fleming

  1. Joan Emerson says:

    Loved this posting! After last winter’s extreme snowfall in New Jersey [and, I presume, in Maine] and the resulting need to shovel more snow than even has any right to exist, my husband bought a snow blower. Needless to say, as predicted, that simple act ensured that no snow would fall over the Pine Barrens this winter [nor, apparently, in Maine]. And so, the snow blower sits in the garage unused, my back is not aching from hours of snow shoveling, and the daffodils have confused the seasons and are definitely popping up much earlier than usual. Of course, one can always complain about snow, but there can never be a complaint about seeing daffodils, just a grumble that they [unlike snow] never stay around long enough to wear out their welcome.

  2. MCWriTers says:

    Had on my calendar, and faced with trepidation, a research snowmobiling trip in February. So far, I haven’t had to face my fears. Except, perhaps, the fear that it will snow in April, and that the sea will rise up and swallow my little seaside cottage.

    I have told my shrubs, most firmly, not to even think of flowering yet, but sometimes they get silly. Meanwhile, the deer have not eaten the yew, nor the azaleas, and the turkeys strutting through the yard look fat and healthy. Still, Julia, it’s not exactly “warm.”


  3. Barb Ross says:

    I’ve said for years I was going to plant crocuses along the front walk where we would seen them, since we usually don’t venture into the backyard until long after crocus season is over. I procrastinated and procrastinated and then last fall, I did it. Now the poor, confused things are pushing up out of the snowless ground. What will become of them?

    My husband, born and bred in New England, hates snow, so he’s a happy camper. But I love a snowy day, so I’m a little bereft.

  4. Carol-Lynn Rössel says:

    The skating pond that pretends to be my front path excepted, I must say I’m delighting in this snowless winter, and hope for many more. This winter, the ceiling in my enclosed front porch has not cracked through and I did not need to put buckets beneath it to contain the spill. I have not needed to plug in the V shaped “roof decoration” cords that melt the snow on said roof, which is good because something happened to the electricity that feeds that part of the porch (and also the area above the sink in the kitchen) and there’s been no joy for around a year when I push in a plug. And — oh yes — and I seldom hear the buzz saw of the blankety-blank snow mobiles on the lake, and this noise extends way into the morning — say 3 AM on a clear night. Not that I’m not awake then, mind you. I’m nocturnal, and the brain really doesn’t engage until 10 PM. Still, I LIKE the conceit that I’m alone in the world. Anyhow, I’ve been such a happy camper this winter. One oil delivery a month (supplemented, okay, by space heaters, but you can just heat one room that way, if you need it) from the oil guys. Friendly guys, but we’re not about to be dating. To me, it feels like April. It does. And I don’t care how hard it is for those guys to make it out to their fishing shacks, which I can see right from this window. I don’t.

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