Spatters of salt

Fri, 02/06/2015 - 9:00am

One time not so long ago — and I swear it happened once and only once — I was out in the afternoon, late afternoon ran into early evening, and I suddenly realized I had at home a dog who had been expecting her dinner for over two hours.

So, I set an alarm on my phone, allowing me enough time to get home to meet that sacred deadline. The last several days when it has rung I have been surprised; the sky has been too light for it to be a quarter to five. As January folded into February we passed a milestone of winter, the sun rising before seven and setting after five. Every day now feels so much longer, regardless of the weather. 

Then it was Groundhog Day and, mimicking the movie of the same name, we were on a tight cycle, lousy weather followed by temperatures mild enough to thaw the snow into slush, then more precipitation and more cold. There is no longer any “before” or “after” the storm, it is all one big, cold, wet loop. 

A picture taken from my kitchen window a year ago is solidly white, an unusual happenstance, scrub brush and grasses, goldenrod and milkweeds flash frozen, coated not with hoarfrost but real snow. The same view this year is not so beautiful, it is more the stark New England winter with which we long have been familiar. I don't know the name for it. In another locale, away from the shore, it would be an Ethan Frome landscape; I prefer to save Andrew Wyeth for summer when the wind truly does come in from the sea to make summer curtains waft into rooms. The ocean in this scene is on the glass, spatters of salt.

Do people anymore have winter and summer curtains, the former heavy, dark, largely futile attempts at keeping out the cold wind, the former almost gossamer material recalled by Wyeth paintings, panels that do float on the breeze? I did, until very recently, until last year, and already they seem a distant memory from another lifetime. My world is, literally, brighter and I feel it in my soul. 

The sun is shining today but the land is white and cold. The dog loves it out and does not understand why I do not want to join her for long, romping, and why I do not want at all to jump into a crusty drift of snow.

Oddly, there was one lone icicle on my east window this morning, simply stuck to the middle of the glass, waiting for the sun to warm it enough for its hold to be loosened. It was on the window beside my desk but I did not see it go, even in the way we see things at the periphery of our vision, slightly after the fact. 

On the news I hear they are still cleaning the streets in Boston, preparing for a parade, a celebration of the Super Bowl champions returned to New England. Football has never held my attention, it is baseball that runs with the seasons, that comes with the hope and promise of spring and runs — or did until 2004 — to the inevitable darkness of fall. 

But the Patriots won the Super Bowl, finally, after two grinding losses, it was a win that enabled Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to say “Cue the Duck Boats,” the hugely popular amphibious vehicles that usually transport tourists about the historic city, or sports heroes returned to glory. Today, of greater interest to me, they are taking on the fact more snow fell on that city last week than in the fabled Blizzard of 1978. The mayor credited great shifts in technology and preparation for the fact that they have had to postpone the parade only one day. 

The “historic” storm of last week is already very much history. A New England team has won a championship. 

We were lucky. It has happened before, there is a way truly bad weather swoops down beneath our little isle and slams “The Cape and the Islands.” The refrain last week became: “It could be worse, we could be Nantucket,” as reports of island-wide power outages and downtown flooding came across the airwaves. 

Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts, spoke, talking of the snow that had fallen across his state, county by county. He ran through his list, including Dukes which includes the Vineyard, but not Nantucket, which is its own county. The friend, at whose house I had taken refuge during the storm, and I looked at each other with “He left out Nantucket?!” 

Now, I am thinking perhaps it was not on his list, perhaps he led with it. How could he have omitted one of his nationally known islands? The same one immortalized by Herman Melville, about which I doubt people ask “Is that in New York?” Then I remembered years ago talking to someone in government there, after, but not long after, the summer. He blurted out, “You know what it's like!” and I realized the truer fellowship was not of small towns but of you-can't-get-there-from-here islands. Baker did fly out the next day. 

Photographs were stunning in the worst way, far beyond the peaked drifts and frosted buildings on Block Island. Streets were flooded with ocean water, others lined with utility poles in positions varying from upright to touching the ground, all yoked by wires. The downtown is no different than it was when I was there years ago, pristine houses from another century so beautifully kept they justify what may read as draconian historic district rules. National Grid trucks looked oddly out of place. 

The big island to the east made national headlines; I was receiving “We saw Nantucket, how are you?” e-mails. So much better, I would respond, thinking “bigger is not always better.” 

Today, the Nantucket paper website has a shot of an awning inexplicably hung with hundred of icicles; my window had one. Theirs were in the shade, even with temperatures in the teens, mine was vanquished by the morning sun.