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.