Fri, 02/20/2015 - 8:30am

One of the talk show hosts on WPRO tells a story of being in the newsroom during a storm years ago and the excitement among the less experienced weathermen. One of them ran into the room shouting “It just hit 105 [mph] on Block Island!” 

That was yesterday; today I am feeling as old as he claims he did at that moment. It is not because I awoke with aching bones because, amazingly, I did not; the sun is a tonic I feel as soon as first light light shows at the horizon. 

It is because of emails and Facebook posts about this weather, assertions that made me ask: “There hasn't been ice in the basin for 30 years?” We used to know with certainty, the Sprigg Carroll landed there every day in winter. The vessel that carried pilots out to the great ships headed up Narragansett Bay docked in that inner basin, the Mobile Island, the little tanker that delivered fuel along the coast, came in there as well as into the New Harbor. Now I wonder if it really has been that long; it is hard to fathom.  

It was brutally cold this week in February in the 1980s when family came for my mother's funeral; it was just plain cold more than a decade later when I knew if my pipes held until Saturday when we were going to climb out of single digit nights I'd be okay. The intake froze Friday afternoon, easily remedied with a hair dryer. 

It was the 70s, though, when it was so terribly, terribly cold and the man next door said “hasn't been this cold since the winter of... ” one of a few dates in the 1930s. I thought at the time how can one not remember which year, so sure I would carry to my grave whatever season it was at that moment.

I forgot.

My mother was wiser, she wrote things on paper. It was in 1977 that the harbor was “frozen solid” but the boat was able to get to the dock; it managed to break through. On this day in 1979, she recorded in her perfect penmanship “sixth straight day below 10.” Six days later came the good news/bad news of a thaw. That may have been the same year that same next door neighbor, the father of the one who now rescues me when a pane of glass blows out of an old window in mid-winter, or I think I've run my battery down, or any of a multitude of problems, came upon my mother and me and the car stuck in the mud that was Mansion Road.

“Sitting on the wall like a couple of crows, they were,” he told someone. And we were, knowing he soon would be along. He was a taciturn man and didn't say a word, just backed up his jeep, turned it around, got out the rope and hauled us out of the mire. The car stayed on the main road for days thereafter. 

Flipping thought the pages of my mother's little five-year diary recounting the years from 1976-'80, this time of year was all about the condition of the road (as I often note, not purchased/maintained by the town until 1984), mud and ruts then more freezing, the boat not running, days without mail and nights without power. I look at them every few years and they never read any less like Armageddon. The operation to remove the first of the cancer that would eventually kill her is just another dark line between gas tanks blowing over in the wind and drifting snow, both of which were remedied by that neighbor — although in one place “John plowed” has written above it “Jr.” The torch was being passed.

She did not track the New Harbor; there was a year the ice was so thick the little Mobil Islander could not make its way to the dock. The Coast Guard made a few runs, likely only with a vessel kept here, not a real cutter, then gave up.

The stalwart little Islander gradually pushed the ice aside, stopping and starting, reversing and ramming forward. She was in repair for six months after that winter. Today, there are more houses and many more vehicles all using much more fuel, which arrives in great tanker trucks on stern loaders. 

That little block of time established whatever is the opposite of a gold standard of winter for me. "As long as it is not as bad as..."

All that aside, it is absurdly cold. Even Autumn has decided, after a few you-really-expect-me-to-come-back-inside ventures, she would rather lie in the sun, migrating as it moves across the floor, a big yellow cat. Today, we are on the back side of yet another storm. Winter did not start early, it was not bad for a long time but when this last forecast came through I realized I had hit some wall of denial; I could not take the dire warnings seriously.

It snowed Saturday night then, as predicted, there was a lull that would last until morning. I went out to move my car and found more snow on it than expected, but the road was surprisingly clear. Then the temperature plummeted and the wind began to howl. It was bad news balanced by the fact that the heavy wet snow would be blown from the wires before they started to swing in the wind, lessening the probability of the nightmare threat behind every winter storm: a power outage.

That was when I gave in, pushed my thermostat to 62 and turned up the music to drown out the sound of the furnace kicking on and kicking on and kicking on, hearing more of my mother's advice: “It's not as expensive as broken pipes!” 

There is another storm, an increasingly hard-to-take seriously storm, forecast. And Autumn is back outside, lying on the ice-crusted snow.