Monday, January 5, 2015

A COLD SNAP

When the newscaster complains of below freezing temps and ice in the deepest South, I remember a winter in New England and a night when temps dipped to 52 degrees below zero. Isolated in the northernmost tip of Maine near the Canadian border, I dreamed of sunflowers, Confederate Jasmine, summer afternoons on a screened porch napping under the cover of humidity while the north wind howled under the eaves of a farmhouse that never captured warmth. It was the season of plowed roads, snow piled as high as telephone poles, early nightfall, ghostly hours, and lit windows shining on an un-cleared table. The hush of trees without birdsong was almost unbearable.

At 8 a.m., cigarette smoke curled above a drip pot of coffee at a Formica table in the kitchen of my neighbor on the first floor of the farmhouse. The woman, a redhead from Arkansas with a liking for Herbert Tareyton cigarettes and Canasta, demanded we drop cards all morning. A few miles away, my husband, an intelligence specialist, kept watch for enemy planes in a radar shack on the Canadian border and played volleyball in the snow most of the day.

The earth was burdened with snow, so fresh corpses were stacked in the mausoleum to wait for spring thaw. The St. John River froze solid, and our eyelashes iced over when we stepped outdoors. We haunted the post office but hardly anyone wrote, and every morning I listened to my own heartbeat after his boots left the warm kitchen. The oven, having baked a pan of biscuits, stayed on all day. Boredom was a bedtime story for sleepless eyes under a red electric blanket.

The clock on the wall ticked slowly—slower each day until spring finally arrived. Mourners cleared the mausoleum and began to dig graves in the thawed earth. We opened the windows to let in the fresh air of living things. We had survived the winter. In May, we traveled to Massachusetts to muster out of the Army. But before we closed the door to the upstairs apartment, I left a question lying on the bare kitchen table: Why would anyone choose to live here?

After I recorded the above memory this morning, I began preparing for a short trip to The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee. The weatherman forecasts temps as low as nine degrees in the area, and I won't be surprised if we see snow on the hemlock in the backyard while we're there.

Such are the contradictions of human beings, for I vowed never to live in a clime where temps dipped below freezing again. At least I haven't ventured into New England to set up house, but friends living here in the mild climate of Acadiana would probably echo my remark about the Maine experience: So, why would anyone choose to live there on The Mountain?

As Mark Twain said, "Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it!"


P.S. The above saying is also attributed to Charles Dudley Warner who phrased it a bit differently: "The weather in New England is a matter about which a great deal is said and very little done."

Note: Cover painting of The Maine Event by my brother Paul who died a few weeks ago. Photo of hemlock by Victoria I. Sullivan.

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