How’s the weather

Wintry mix

It continues to be an unusually warm, rainy winter. On Monday, we got several inches of dense, sludgy snow: the first time J has used the snow-blower all season. By Tuesday, the snow had melted, and now we’re in a pattern where we get a slick coating of sleet, snow, or slush overnight that disappears by mid-morning.

Wintry mix is the term New Englanders use for mixed precipitation: a messy combination of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Given this week’s warm temperatures, the weather has been heavy on “mix” and light on “wintry.”


After last week’s rain and sloppy snow, today was brisk and bright. J and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum to see an exhibit of early photography in China, and after we’d had our fill of looking, we ordered lunch and ate in the museum’s sun-drenched atrium: the closest thing to al fresco dining you can get in January in New England.


Even though it’s been a mild winter in terms of temperature and snow accumulation, the days are still despairingly short. In winter, I am heliotropic, my inner sunflower turning toward the sun or any reasonable facsimile offering light, warmth, and color.

After we’d finished our lunch, J and I briefly browsed in the museum gift shop, admiring a display of Mova globes like the one J gave me for Christmas, each a beautiful ball that spontaneously spins through a combination of magnetism, solar power, and magic. My Mova globe sits on a shelf in my bathroom, away from electromagnetic interference from electronic devices and near a window where sunlight suffuses even on gloomy days. Every time I see it, my heart hearkens with recognition: keep turning toward the light, little world.

Turkeys in (sloppy) snow

It’s been a rainy winter, without enough snow (so far) to plow or shovel. Every time it rains, J and I comment that in the past, this rain would have been snow…but in this age of climate change, we don’t get as much snow in November, December, or even January as we used to.

Turkey in snow

Today’s forecast called for rain, snow, and freezing rain, and what we got was rain that occasionally fell as sloppy snow. This sludgy substance accumulated on the grass and shrubs but mostly melted on streets and sidewalks.

Tomorrow’s high is supposed to be in the 40s, so today’s slush will quickly melt, and we’ll return to an ongoing trend of cloudy, unseasonably warm days. In the meantime, today’s messy weather was a perfect excuse to stay inside, read, and sip tea and hot chocolate…at least when I wasn’t walking the dog, who this afternoon had a face-to-face encounter with a rafter of turkeys braving today’s precipitation.

Norway maple leaves

Today was another tropical day, with the remnants of hurricane Nicole bringing rain in the morning and high temperatures and humidity all day. In the afternoon, J and I walked to an annual craft fair we hadn’t been to since November, 2019: a chance to do some early Christmas shopping on a 70-degree day.

Parking structure

As the foliage falls and gathers on the ground, the trees are gradually becoming bare and drab, as if their color has drained from the tips of their twigs to their deep-down roots. As the days shorten and the landscape fades to gray, we humans also dig deep, seeking sustenance in the mundane routines that keep us grounded: walking and writing and steeling ourselves for another monochromatic winter.


Last night when I took Roxy outside at 5:30 pm, it was already dark, but warm enough that I was comfortable in short-sleeves and capris: summer weather with the crunch of leaves underfoot.

This morning, it was warm and drizzly when Roxy and I took our morning walk: too tropical to bother with a raincoat. When I think of Melville’s “damp, drizzly November in my soul,” I imagine a combination of cold and damp, not a sauna spritz.

It’s always unsettling when the days are suddenly shortened by the end of Daylight Savings Time; it’s even more unsettling when dark afternoons say Winter while the temperature says Summer.

Two maples after dark

After days of drizzle, the ground underfoot is carpeted with fallen leaves: a slick and sodden carpet destined to decay. Although foliage forecasts try to predict when trees will reach the height of color, I prefer days when the trees are past their prime, their ragged tops blown almost bare and the ground beneath their branches dappled with detritus.

How do I explain this preference? Is it that I, too, am past my prime, rounding the corner into late middle age? Or is it that II, too, feel perpetually belated, having missed the hoopla and arriving at the party just as it is ending?

I suspect I suffer from a stubborn streak of contrariness, preferring the time after leaf-peepers have left and the streets are once again the sole domain of early morning dog-walkers and intrepid joggers. September and early October are as bright and festive as a party dress, but late October reminds us of the true mood of autumn: a season less fun than funereal..

Already peonies

The weather in New England has been crazy. Last week was beautiful, with a string of sunny days with temperatures in the 70s: perfect weather for walking, reading on the patio, and dining alfresco. Saturday was overcast and humid with afternoon thunderstorms, Sunday was warm and sunny, and Monday spiked into the upper 80s: suddenly summer. Yesterday started warm until temperatures dropped into the 60s–spring again–and today has been gray and drippy after overnight thunderstorms.

It’s hard to tell, in other words, if it’s spring or summer, so I’ve taken to calling this time of year spring-into-summer. It’s a transitional period marked by indecision and mood swings. May is clearly spring, and July will truly be summer, but early June can’t make up its mind. Some days are reminiscent of April showers, and others hearken ahead to summer sultriness.

This might explain why I’m always surprised when any of the neighbors’ peonies bloom. I associate peonies with summer, so I’m always surprised when they bloom out of the blue, before I’m ready. Peonies flower in their own good time, and I’m always out of step, muttering “Already?” under my breath.

Stairway window

Every year, I complain about the February doldrums. February in New England is an interminable month, with gray and dreary days adding to the long slog of winter. When March finally comes, it feels like an accomplishment: another month weathered, another step closer to someday-spring.

Right now, both my students and I are counting the days until Spring Break. Although I’m not planning to go anywhere, I’m looking forward to a week off from teaching: a chance to sleep in, catch up with my paper-piles, and reset before the last half of the semester.

Last year, Spring Break was canceled due to COVID: colleges deemed it too risky to allow students to travel, so we pushed our way through an entire semester without rest or refreshment. Even now, a full year later, I haven’t forgiven whoever thought it was a good idea to plow our way through Spring 2021 without a chance to catch our breath.

Pandemic teaching has been an exhausting roller coaster ride, and last year we needed a break more than ever. I’m glad that this year, students and faculty alike are getting the break we so urgently need.

What season is it?

There comes a time every not-quite-spring when I feel a surge of almost certainty: a feeling that says if I’ve survived winter this long, I just might survive the rest.

This feeling typically comes on a day like today when the sun is mostly out, there are still impassable stretches of ice underfoot, and the forecast calls for snow. It’s not over, the forecast says…but it will be over eventually, my soul whispers.

This year the pandemic feels like another interminable winter. We know we aren’t out of the woods yet, but… Even as the weather forecast calls for snow, we look at the calendar and the lengthening days and repeat our February mantra, “Every day without snow is a day closer to No More Snow.”

Right now, every day without a positive COVID diagnosis feels like a day closer to Lots Less COVID. (Four weeks into my fourth semester of in-person pandemic teaching, I still say the best day of the week is whatever day my negative PCR test results come back.)

We know that COVID, like New England snowstorms, isn’t going away for good…but the thing that gets us through another long winter is the knowledge that it won’t always be this way. Someday, eventually, we’ll wear sandals and short-sleeves again, and someday, eventually, we’ll return to dining outside or in and mingling with or without masks.

I can learn to weather COVID surges, going to ground when cases are high and venturing out when cases decline. I can learn to weather a threat that is cyclic if not seasonable, our lives divided into social time and stay-at-home times.

On days like today, I can feel it in my bones: we just might survive.

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