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My inevitable winter column


February 19, 2014

There comes a point in the winter when the winter is all it seems there is to talk about—or write about. It’s easy to say that more than half of winter is over except for this daily nitty-gritty contest with snow and ice. John, my husband, puts it bluntly, “When spring comes this year, people are going to go nuts.”

You don’t need me to tell you it’s a winter that just won’t quit—especially if you are leaving home each morning to fight your way to work on the icy roads.

Some days I leave before the plow has gone through and it has taken an hour to make what is typically a 15-minute drive. And you all know the particular head rush of the senses that comes when the car fishtails then starts to slide sideways down a hill. Once, though, while sliding backwards in Rock Valley, I caught a glimpse in my car’s rear view mirror of a mink frisking at the tree line. I suppose if it weren’t for my backwards descent, I might have missed that furry being.

My kids have spent these frigid mornings hurling pots of boiling water into the morning air to watch the water transform into a frozen vapor cloud. The arctic blast of sub-zero temperatures has brought about a revival of this common winter pastime, and YouTube is currently full of home videos of kids tossing vats of scalding water to the skies as well as photos of the burns that can result when the water accidently hits spectators. When the boiling water hits the cold air, it turns into a mist of ice crystals before it falls to the ground, a phenomenon known as the Mpemba Effect.

While a snowy field can be a sparkling thing of beauty, it can be a challenge to see ice and snow with humor. There’s nothing funny about frozen pipes and buckled roof tops (or the car whining and spewing exhaust in the snow bank, or simply not starting at all). But, being a family given to words, we make a game of naming the various types of snow. For instance, John calls that particular dry, swirling snow that whispers across the road in front of the car, “trucker’s bones.” We have yet to come up with an apt name for that icy, dirty, gunk that builds up behind the car wheels—“car crud” being our closest fit. (All suggestions are welcome.)

Right now, there is the slightest hint of spring in the light; the days are a little longer, the mornings are a little brighter.

When there is little to do but keep plodding through winter, I like to imagine the frogs, asleep, barely breathing, at the bottom of their ponds. Buried in the soft mud and wet leaves, they wait for spring. And we wait for the voices of the frogs to signal that winter is over.

Warmth and safe travels to all.