Sunday, December 15, 2013

Remembering Winter

We had snow again this weekend. Last weekend it came down as rain, then snow, then sleet, then ice, then snow. It was just like winter for a day or two. Then it got all nice and sunny and the temperatures went above the teens and above freezing. And then on Saturday it did it again. So it was back to clearing the driveway and the walkway and throwing snowballs at the dogs and that kind of fun. Only a couple of inches, but when you live on a mountainside and the way out is downhill, there is work to do.

The year before last, winter forgot us. Last year it tried to make up for that failure. We thought we were again on the no-snow list until the morning of Christmas Eve. For the first time in more than a year, I had to put chains and the snow blade on the old truck, turn the heater on and spend time grinding away at several inches of snow and ice. The sun was out all day, and that helped, but we still had shady places where the surface was slippery and then muddy for a week. The next week the forecast was for slippy-sliding and more to come, but all we got was rain. I’m not complaining. We seldom find ourselves with too much water. Even now, with water from underground springs standing in the fields, and muddy gravel instead of a firm driveway, we are happy to see the water, and hope that it sinks in before it evaporates.

It wasn’t the worst winter we’ve had, of course. When we first moved here full-time, we had snow starting in September and ending in June. July 4th was an occasion to pull out the down jackets to sit outside and watch the fireworks. One morning that first December, our outdoor thermometer recorded 36 degrees below zero. Talk about crisp winter air! And we loved it.

A couple of decades later, it’s a little different story. Winter has lost it’s thrill, even here. Global warming brings us days in the 50s and 60s, even in the last week, and we welcome it, hope for more of it, spend as much time out in it as we can and hope it will last. At the same time, we worry that the lack of snow, the dry days of Autumn and the prospect of a dryer than usual Spring will begin to affect our deep well. We have rain barrels that provide water for the gardens, and no indication that our underground water source is in jeopardy, but still we think about the future. What happens here if the water table collapses beneath us? What if the Spring rains don’t come, and the Summer rains are sparse, and the Fall rains light? We live in the woods, surrounded by hundreds of tall, strong trees. There is a creek (called a river by those who have lived here a lifetime) that runs through it, and underground springs that feed the small pond in the large field across from the house, but if the dryness turns to fire, what then?

So we think about how we can conserve, how we can make the most of the least in order to protect ourselves and the future of this place. We have it pretty well worked out for now. We can’t ignore the obvious, however. Looking back over years of personal journals, there are notes on the weather at the beginning of each entry, and it isn’t a pretty picture. Little by little our climate has changed. Easier to live with perhaps, but the progression toward a more unpleasant climate is obvious. For the people who choose to live along the coast, the progress is even more obvious, as the shoreline moves back, back toward the houses and busnesses that make a community. It may be inches at a time, but it is happening.

For years I’ve joked that we’ve always wanted to live by the shore. We’re were just waiting for it to get here.

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