[N.B. From a previous February]
It’s raining! RAINING, RAINING, RAINING! Yea! Hooray, alleluia, amen! The temperature is 34 degrees!
Yesterday afternoon, I heard birds! They probably were only crows, but imagine the thrill of it all—it was warm enough to have the window open an inch or two! The high temperature today will be 38 degrees. We are having our January thaw, albeit in February. No matter—we aren’t picky about the details. Everyone rushes outside, hoping to sit and enjoy the good weather, only to discover that it is, well, still a bit nippy.
Only in Central New York do people exclaim to each other, “Oh, isn’t it such a nice day!” when it is gray, raining and windy. It is warm! The temperature is
43 degrees. Crap is predicted for the next seven days—daytime temperatures in the 20s, nighttime in the teens, wind-chills in single digits, snow every day—but so what? Today it is warm. You can hear the birds. The snow mountains in the parking lot are down to eight feet. And it’s just . . . well, it’s warm. Really warm, you know? Like Spring.
The writer’s stylebook says seasons of the year are not capitalized. Here, Spring will always come in capital letters.
The medical transport driver prefers heavy winter because if you go off the road, you hit a snowhill instead of going into a gully, but today he slid off the road and got stuck. Instead of snowhills, there was rain on top of ice on top of slush on top of mud. He was traveling empty. When the road is bad, he loads his patients in the way-back for extra traction.
He began the solitary labor to extricate his van while a weather front moved in with high winds and rapidly falling temperatures. Even with wood under the wheels and his best efforts, his only success was getting the wheels straightened out, not getting them back on the road. He radioed for backup and they sent the boss in the heavy four-wheel. The boss spun for fifteen minutes until a bag of Quik-Dry, used to sop up grease on the garage floor, was dumped under one wheel. It provided some traction for a back wheel; a front wheel caught a dry spot in the middle of the road, and business went on as usual.
Sunrise. A blaze of reflected light appears briefly in the windows of the high-rise on a distant hill. Steam from the power plant blows east, flat across the sky behind the blaze. Above it, a jetliner climbs steeply west out of the airport. The ground is all covered with snow, but the rooftops are bare except for the occasional spot where ice has formed and is slowly working its way under the shingles.
When the next thaw comes, there will be damage as the ice melts and discolors someone’s wallpaper. If I wanted to sell insulation, I would drive down the street on a very cold day and follow the birds. Flocks of them gather on the rooftops that have no insulation, huddling against the heat escaping from the house below.
Forty-three days till Spring. The Master Gardener says crocuses around March 15.
I wonder why we do it—put up with this. The first white man to spend the winter in Central New York—why didn’t he just move on, sending word back that this place is not habitable? Why was there a second winter, or a second man? What fool built a house here? The Onondaga tribe of the Iroquois nation has been here forever but they are in and of the land. The white man only lives on the land, not interacting with it as the completion of his life cycle.
I come from the land three hundred miles south of here. The sun shines all winter; the temperature rarely drops below 20; the average annual snowfall is 16 inches. For 250 years we have farmed the land. We planted, harvested, and “put by.” Garbage was composted and worked back into the soil. The chickens and cows fed off the land, and we fed off them. The outhouses were moved periodically; the cemetery remained in place. The soil, vegetation and animal life cycled endlessly through the days of fourteen generations. Plant and animal DNA altered one another in a sunlit minuet. We became a short, sturdy people, suited to the rolling hills.
Now I am transplanted to this steep, icy, dark land. I am in the wrong place and cannot long survive. The land back home no longer feeds the people; it is planted with townhouses. Does the land weep for me, as I weep for the land?
Light snow skitters across the Valley. A disabled tractor-trailer sits blinking on the shoulder of Rt. 81. Downtown hangs clouded in the distance. We have ten hours and eighteen minutes of daylight, and nine feet of snow. The snow will increase—and so will the available light.
The weatherman reports, “The cold won’t be so brutal.” Where else do they forecast how bad the weather will not be? The packed powder base on the neighboring ski slope is 110 inches, but the weather is getting better, despite the Master Gardner’s derision. “Do you think that just because it’s going to be Spring in 41 days, it’ll be warm?”
Yes, I do. It will be warmer than today. It will be lighter than today. I know we yet have grim weather ahead. “We have two seasons here: Winter and the Fourth of July.” People say that because July is the only month on record that we haven’t had snow. One year we had a blizzard on Mother’s Day. Today the wind chill is 12; Tuesday the ambient temperature will be 0. But it will be lighter. There is hope.
Today I will plant. A basket lined with aluminum foil and plastic, filled with marbles and potting soil. Little white flowers, for hope, and continuation of the cycle.
My uncle, the thirteenth-generation farmer, had cancer. There was surgery, and treatment, and then reoccurrence. His choices were high-risk surgery in the next state, or a research program in Bethesda. His sister asked him what he was going to do.
“Order seeds for Spring planting,” he said. Keep faith with the land. Human life begins and ends; the land goes on forever.